Since we started wearing face masks, it has been refreshing to not be forced into that awful small talk with people we sort of half know when walking down to the shops. If that’s not enough, they also happen to save lives – it’s not as hard a sale as you would think. So, when the Government announced on Monday that masks would no longer be legally compulsory as part of 19th July’s so-called ‘Freedom Day’, why was Facebook and Twitter inundated with hundreds of users celebrating their liberation from their ‘muzzles’? For many of us, the matter was nothing to celebrate. For the immunocompromised, it was a day to mourn.
Considering that the removal of mandatory face coverings presents this huge risk to those we have been rallying together to protect, why has the public not united and said, ‘actually let’s do the bare minimum so that our vulnerable friends don’t have to roll the dice when doing their weekly shop’.
‘Lawmakers don’t take their own laws seriously so why should we’, the anti-masker cries, and this is a sentiment I’m sure many on the other side of the debate will understand. The classic ‘do as I say not as I do’ approach of the Tories has worn somewhat thin, and people just want their lives back. Again, completely understandable – I’m sure very few of us will look back on this last year fondly – but what price are we willing to pay to avoid the minor inconvenience of coving our faces when mixing indoors. What it really boils down to is mistrust of those meant to protect us.
Very few people have taken the government’s approach to this crisis seriously. My first memory of the response is the wonderful sound bite where Boris Johnson gleefully bumbles and brags about shaking the hands of all working in a hospital with some of the first COVID patients. Then came the World Record for the furthest distance traveled for an eye test and most recently an insight into the sexy private life of famed womanizer Matt Hancock – we’ve really had it all. It’s a surprise there was any time for work amongst those hectic schedules. What was less surprising is that a few members of the public saw this as the green light to do the same.
Fortunately, these individuals remain the minority and, to some extent, sensibility prevailed, and we followed the example and advice of most of our scientists. Even after the end of lockdown was announced the public still seemed to support this approach. A YouGov poll conducted on 13 July 2021 showed that 83% of those polled support social distancing continuing beyond the date restrictions are due to end – so why are those elected to represent us removing the protections that the vast majority wish to see continue?
The science surrounding masks is clear, with studies showing that they reduce viral transmission by 79% when indoors. It is also important to note that wearing a mask for short periods of time presents no risk to individual health. So in a country with the highest rate of COVID-19 infections (as of 18 July 2021), it makes sense to carry on as we have for most of this awful year. You would think this should be enough information for anyone, let alone those chosen to protect us, to understand and yet after the 19th, we will be told to throw caution to the wind.
Anti-maskers have spent the whole pandemic denying the commands of the government, so I ask them: why stop now? Do the anti-establishment thing and keep your mask on.
Word by Harry Clark