More and more adults in their 30s and 40s are choosing to wear face masks on buses and trains amid spiralling Covid cases, official data suggests.
An Office for National Statistics (ONS) poll revealed 33 per cent of middle-aged adults wore coverings while on public transport at the start of September, just after schools went back.
But just a month later this had ticked upwards to almost 40 per cent, despite no change in official guidance.
A similar rise in face mask use on public transport was also seen among 50 to 69-year-olds towards the end of September, while it remained constant among the over-70s. For young adults use of the coverings dropped towards the end of September.
Face mask use has risen since January because the figures are based on people saying whether they wore a face mask on public transport, and not everyone used buses at the height of the second wave in January.
Dr Raghib Ali, a statistician at Cambridge University, said it was to be expected that face mask use on buses and trains would rise as Covid cases headed north.
He told MailOnline: ‘People tend to change their behaviour when Covid cases go up. We saw that in July as well, and we are heading to a similar level of cases at the moment.’
Britain yesterday recorded another 49,139 Covid cases. Health Secretary Sajid Javid warned infections may breach 100,000 within weeks.
The above graph reveals face mask use on public transport. It shows how it has risen among 30 to 49-year-olds since September, when schools went back leading many adults to also return to the office. The lines show the percentage of people who said they wore face masks on public transport, out of those who said they had worn a face mask in the week before they were questioned. The data is from a survey by the Office for National Statistics
Where do I still have to wear a face mask in the UK?
Although many Covid restrictions have already been dropped, face masks are still required in some parts of the UK.
Boris Johnson made face masks optional on ‘Freedom Day’ July 19.
But transport operators and supermarkets were among those appealing to people to keep wearing the coverings.
The Prime Minister is now under pressure to reintroduce masks, with doctors saying they will help to head off a rise in Covid cases.
Some schools in parts of the South West and Greater Manchester have already brought back face masks.
Face masks are still required in schools, shops and on public transport in the country.
Secondary school pupils must wear the masks in classrooms, and primary school children are required to use them when moving between rooms or in communal areas.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has not suggested these measures will be lifted in the near future.
Face masks are still required on public transport and in most indoor areas in the country.
The only indoor places they now do not have to be worn are pubs and restaurants.
Wales changed its rules on August 7. There is also no sign that they may be eased further.
Like two other UK nations, Northern Ireland still requires face masks on public transport and in shops.
But rules say they must also be worn in hospitality venues such as pubs and bars.
The coverings were dropped from classrooms in July.
Boris Johnson made coverings optional in England on Freedom Day in July, despite No10’s top scientists urging them to be kept mandatory. They are still in use in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
The Prime Minister is now facing mounting pressure from unions and doctors to make the masks mandatory again and re-impose work from home guidance to help head off rising cases.
Face masks help stop the spread of the coronavirus by catching miniscule droplets exhaled by infected people. But the science on how well they work has been patchy, although experts insist the benefits of wearing coverings are obvious.
The ONS survey — titled ‘Coronavirus and the social impacts on Great Britain’ — estimates how many people are wearing face masks, social distancing and following other measures to control the spread of the virus.
But the more than 5,000 British households it surveys self-report their answers, and are not required to offer any proof that they have actually worn face masks regularly.
The weekly or bi-weekly survey asks participants whether they are wearing face masks in certain settings including public transport, at work, in the supermarket and while exercising outdoors among others.
Face mask use on public transport was low from January to March — during the third lockdown — because many people were not taking buses and trains due to restrictions.
Schools returned in England, Wales and Northern Ireland at the start of September, which data suggests also co-incided with a return to the office.
The number of commuters going through 15 key tube stations in the City of London reached a post-Covid peak on September 16, according to Transport for London.
And a poll by the Chartered Management Institute of more than 1,000 managers found four-fifths reported that ‘at least’ some of their staff who were homeworking in July would be asked to return to the office in September.
Dr Ali told MailOnline: ‘Behaviour change, whether it is wearing masks or reducing social contacts… has been seen before over the course of the pandemic, and especially in July when there was no other measure in place.
‘I expect we are seeing the same thing now.’
England is the only UK nation that has made face masks optional to date.
Scotland still requires them to be worn in schools, shops and on public transport, while Wales says they should be used on public transport and in health and social care settings. In Northern Ireland they are still needed in crowded spaces.
In July, the last time cases topped 50,000 a day, an ONS survey found two thirds of adults were still planning to wear face masks on shops and public transport even after they became advisory.
Before restrictions were eased many SAGE scientists came forward to say they would still be carrying face masks even though they would no longer be required, and wear them in public spaces.
Supermarkets also called on shoppers to continue wearing the masks when they come to pick up their groceries.
It comes as unofficial data today suggested that Britain’s Covid cases may have already breached 80,000 cases a day.
About 45,000 Britons are currently testing positive for Covid every day officially, but Britain’s largest symptom-tracking study estimated today that the true number of infections could be double that number.
The sluggish programme comes against the backdrop of rising case numbers, with nearly 50,000 Britons testing positive each day. Britain’s largest symptom-tracking study, however, estimated today that the true number of infections is actually closer to 82,000 — which would dwarf the rate at the peak of the second wave. King’s College London scientists running the study estimated 81,823 people were getting infected with Covid daily in the week ending October 16, up 17 per cent from 69,993 the week before. The graph shows the number of infections recorded among all people (blue line) and those recorded among double-jabbed Britons (red line)
The King’s College London’s research found that 81,823 people were getting infected daily in the week ending October 16, up 17 per cent on the week before.
Top doctors have accused ministers of ‘willful negligence’ for ignoring the warning signs, while Tony Blair warned that having more than 80,000 daily cases was ‘unsustainable’.
But Downing Street has said that neither of its top experts – Professor Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance – had formally requested the activation of the Government’s Covid ‘Plan B’ yet, in an attempt to shoot down claims ministers were ignoring scientific advice.
While the Government has insisted that it has no plans to enact the contingency plan yet, it emerged today that heightened support will be delivered to areas in England which are seeing persistent and above average Covid levels.
Four local authorities — Leicester, Bolton, Luton and Blackburn and Darwen — will be subject to surge testing and targeted vaccination programmes. Another 15 areas have been earmarked for the support package.
The Tony Blair Institute has said ministers need to act ‘rapidly and decisively’ to avoid the need for another lockdown as winter approaches.
It urged ministers to set daily targets for booster jabs, re-activate the vaccine infrastructure set up earlier in the year and start using the AstraZeneca jab for boosters.