Anyone feeling unwell should wear a mask if they have to leave their home, officials have said.
UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) bosses also advise people to delay going back to work and school to avoid spreading bugs and piling pressure on the NHS.
The alert comes amid a surge in Covid, flu and scarlet fever cases.
So amid the extreme pressures on the NHS, exacerbated by a winter ‘tripledemic’, should society go back to pandemic-era mask-wearing?
MailOnline readers were today asked to share their opinions on the possible return of face masks. Here’s 20 of the best rated comments…
Answers to MailOnline’s poll as of 12pm GMT today
The flu-nami has swept across the NHS in England, the latest round of health service data shows, with over 3,800 admissions for the virus on December 23. Graph shows the number of beds on wards taken up by those with flu (red) and the number of beds occupied due to the virus in critical care (blue)
Looking at the poll I am again disappointed in our people why do so many still think a mask is of any benefit Palharri, Airstrip one, United Kingdom
Facemasks are as much use as a chocolate teapot Leyton Exile, Par Cornwall, United Kingdom
I will never ever wear one again and neither will my kids get stuffed Globe trotter, Anywhere I fancy, United Kingdom
No. They cause more harm than good and are useless anyway. TheUnbeliever, Bromsgrove, United Kingdom
Rather than telling us to change, why dont the bosses develop an action plan and do what they’re paid to do. Save the NHS? From who and what exactly. Stop treating those who haven’t paid in or have just arrived and do your jobs. HughJorgann, Cranfield, United Kingdom
Since they are useless the answer is no. retep eastbourne, Polegate, United Kingdom
Absolutely not, never again will I wear one. If you want to wear a muzzle then you do so, don’t worry about people who don’t if you have one on. Poddington, The Moon, United Kingdom
NHS England data today showed that an average of 63,000 staff were off work every day in the week to Christmas (red line). Around 8,000 of the absences were due to Covid (blue line)
The number of people infected with Covid taking up beds in wards across England soared above 8,600 on December 21, the latest data available shows. The figure jumped 29 per cent in a week
Absolutely NOT..! cornford, EXMOUTH, United Kingdom
No, they are a complete waste of time. Stop being sheep andy, newcastle, United Kingdom
Begs the question, ‘What the hell is the NHS for’, certainly not to treat the public? Get rid of the excessive administration and there will be space for lots more beds when the wastrel admin is gone. AncientPopeye, BRIDGWATER, United Kingdom
Wear what you like. But don’t tell me what to do. Renoog99, Banstead, United Kingdom
Yes Yes ! Please Please ! bring back face masks. Also it would be nice to add a red flower pot – to be worn on the head – like a beacon and big false donkey ears – just so there is no mistaking who is conforming to Government Policy and who is not. non conformist, Billingham, United Kingdom
Trying to control us again face masks don’t work yido1961, Walsall, United Kingdom
No because they are a waste of time Whelking, Brighton, United Kingdom
All people are free to wear a mask if they wish. Nobody should be forced to or forced not to. Acc_2, Milton Keynes, United Kingdom
No because they don’t work Stubeedoo, Swingdon, United Kingdom
I have no objection to anyone wanting to wear a mask. So they should have no objection to me not wanting to wear one. kaybee, Notts, United Kingdom
Make all the rules you like. This time round, the public will just ignore them. Bob642, East Anglia, United Kingdom
The Majority of people had the same mask everyday which done more harm than good. Vicb33, London, United Kingdom
It should be a matter of choice, not something that is forced upon us. StatZdontlie, Liverpool, United Kingdom
In other related news…
Travellers from China who test positive for Covid will NOT have to self-isolate despite fears country’s virus chaos may spawn new doomsday variant after wake-up call of the ‘Kraken’ XBB
Masks make a comeback: Hundreds of thousands of students across the US will be forced to wear face coverings when classes go back this week as schools bring back controversial mandates
Have we learnt nothing from being caught off guard by covid? In a compelling dispatch from the Oxford lab behind coronavirus jab, scientists say they fear too little is being done to prepare for the next pandemic
Do face masks really work?
Despite billions of people wearing them to reduce Covid transmission, gold‑standard scientific evidence — in other words, randomised controlled trials — remain thin on the ground.
Instead, the evidence comes mainly from observational studies, which look at samples of people without interfering or controlling them in any way.
According to these studies, there is a benefit to wearing a mask.
For example, a review of public health measures published by the BMJ in October 2021, looking at 72 observational studies of nearly 400,000 participants, found a 53 per cent reduction in Covid-19 incidence from wearing masks.
And a study in the journal Science in May 2021 showed that even home-made masks stopped larger virus-filled droplets being passed on from an infected person wearing a face cover.
However, the type of mask you need varies according to your environment.
Yafang Cheng, head of a Minerva Research Group at the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry, reported that masks became less efficient if the air is full of virus droplets, as in a Covid ward. In this case, more advanced masks (N95/FFP2) would be required.
Most people in the UK wear disposable ‘surgical’ blue masks comprising three layers of synthetic materials that act as a filter to particles and droplets.