Masks & Vaccines: When are we likely to get back to normal?
The University of Oxford’s development of a potential new Coronavirus vaccine has caused intense speculation that this may represent a possible route back to normality. The UK government has already ordered over 100 million doses, enough to vaccinate the entire population and maintain reserves. The next stage of testing includes large-scale clinical trials, with 10,000 taking part in the UK and additional trials being conducted in the United States, South Africa, and Brazil. These trials will not determine the overall effectiveness of the vaccine, but rather will test its safety profile. Similar vaccines are being developed in China and the US, with the UK government stockpiling both in addition to the Oxford vaccine. Yet the prospect of a workable public vaccine still remains awhile away, and in the interim face masks have become an increasing feature of public life. They will become a legal requirement in all shops in England from July 24th. These developments naturally raise questions, both for business and for wider public life and we aim here to answer some of the most frequent ones.
When will a vaccine be available?
While it is possible that a vaccine may be proven to be effective before the end of the year, it is highly unlikely it will be available to the public before Christmas. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has stated that a vaccine may not be available this year, or even next year. The BBC however reports that most experts believe a vaccine is likely to be available from mid-2021.
What is slowing vaccine progress?
There are still a number of hurdles for any potential vaccine to go through including safety trials, proving immune response, regulatory approval, and the feasibility of mass manufacturing. In addition to this, paradoxically the success of lockdown has slowed down a potential vaccine as testing requires active cases. Deliberately infecting subjects is seen as too dangerous and unethical.
How many people would need to be vaccinated? Will it be mandatory?
It is estimated 60-70% of the population will need to be immune to the disease to achieve ‘herd immunity’ and starve the virus of new hosts. This would in theory have to be done on a global scale, as those coming into the UK could bring new cases. Some have been concerned that to achieve this mandatory vaccination will be required, but the UK government does not currently have the powers to implement this – though this could change in the future.
Who will receive a vaccine first?
The difficulties of manufacturing and distributing a vaccine will mean that naturally certain groups will have to be prioritised as the first to be vaccinated. Frontline staff such as healthcare workers will be the first to receive the vaccine, followed by the elderly and potentially certain ethnic groups that may be susceptible to the virus.
Where will facemasks have to be worn?
Facemasks will be mandatory in all shops in England from the 24th of July; they are already mandatory in all shops in Scotland. Those who do not comply with this ruling may face a fine of up to £100. The exact definition of a ‘shop’ has caused some confusion – with ministers initially ruling masks in takeaways and coffee shops will be encouraged, but not compulsory. It has now been ruled they will be a legal requirement. Banks, indoors shopping centres, and beauty salons are also covered by the ruling. Children under 11, and those with certain disabilities will however be exempt. Pubs and restaurants with table service will not require a face mask. Face coverings will also not be required at theatres, cinemas, hairdressers, and gyms. It will be down to the police, rather than individual shop workers to enforce this ruling.
Why is this being implemented now?
Health Secretary Matt Hancock has stated: “The death rate of sales and retail assistants is 75% higher amongst men and 60% higher amongst women than in the general population.” He also stated that wearing face masks will give people the confidence to shop.
Will this measure lead to an increase of high street sales?
Health Secretary Matt Hancock’s statement that this may give consumers confidence to return to the high street will be encouraging to many businesses across the UK, however data to support this statement as of yet seems hard to come by. The true impact of the decision may not be known for weeks yet, but we can cross our fingers that much needed footfall can once again flow while ensuring that staff and the public are adequately protected from the risks.
While a vaccine is in the works, it will likely not be in place for the rest of this year. In the meantime, the adoption of masks in shops in the UK may provide a boon for businesses. It is still advisable at this time to take contactless payments, and as an influx of shoppers now may be headed back to the high street, this is a great time to consider the options from our great range of terminals.