The Tony Blair Institute for Global Change has called for face masks to be made compulsory on public transport again to prevent a winter Covid wave that could put added pressure on the stretched NHS.
Face coverings have not been in force since July last year, but the institute said “the strategic implementation of mask mandates should be considered for this autumn and winter” on public transport.
It also suggested masks should be brought back for indoor events if a new Covid variant emerges that causes a surge in hospitalisations.
A paper published by the think tank headed by Mr Blair has also called for the Covid booster vaccination campaign to be expanded to include all adults.
Current guidance from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) says that over-50s, the clinically vulnerable and front line health and social care workers can get a booster, with all expected to get an upgraded, omicron-specific jab.
‘Winter will bring a perfect storm’
But the institute said this should be enhanced to cover all over-18s to alleviate pressure on the NHS, with experts predicting a bad year for all respiratory viruses, including flu and Covid.
“This winter will bring a perfect storm, resulting in unprecedented demand and reduced capacity, which will combine to create the worst winter crisis in the NHS’s history,” the report warns.
It also claims that if demand for health services grows because of increasing flu and Covid infections this winter “lives will be lost”.
Health officials have sounded the alarm for several weeks, warning that a viral triple threat – monkeypox, flu and Covid – could prove testing for the health service.
“The Government must do whatever it takes to support the NHS through this period and act immediately to avert an unmitigated disaster,” the report says.
“Failure to do so will result in the breakdown of the NHS as we know it, with a collapse in vital services and a rise in adverse outcomes for patients.”
Australia and other Southern Hemisphere nations in which it is currently winter are battling an unusually bad flu season, with forecasts showing it could be a similar story over the northern winter.
The Government has widened its flu jab rollout to all over-50s and will be starting it earlier than normal. It will run parallel to the Covid booster rollout.