Updated: Jul 27
By Alex De Boick
So, the government has finally stated that the public must wear a face mask in shops. Considering the revelation by Matt Hancock that the death rate of retail assistants is 75% higher in men and 60% higher for women than the general population, this policy should’ve been implemented far sooner than it has been. In my personal experience, its been pretty uncomfortable shopping recently; the measures already introduced are good but often social distancing can be hard to maintain in the cramped aisles of a supermarket, with people marching about in every direction to find a certain item or get something they missed off their list. Perhaps wearing a mask will also make people more aware of social distancing while shopping.
Yet, there are already people complaining about this new measure. You only need to take a glance at Twitter (as usual) to find a whole spectrum of arguments against the wearing of masks that include people disputing the effectiveness of masks, questions of personal liberty, and deranged conspiracy theories about how mandatory masks are a form of totalitarianism - complete with crudely drawn cartoons depicting the strings of a puppet master pulling a mask onto an unsuspecting victim. Even members of the conservative party have protested against the move - MP Desmond Swayne calling the measure a “monstrous imposition”.
As strange as the people protesting against this measure are, they're a product of the government’s own muddled response to the coronavirus. Undoubtedly, people need to take some degree of responsibility for their own ignorance and selfishness, but when only a few months ago the chief medical advisor was saying that wearing a face mask if uninfected “reduces the risk almost not at all”, it’s hardly surprising that some people are voicing dissent now. Large supermarkets have been operating throughout the entirety of the pandemic without the need for masks so this sudden decision by the government is unsurprisingly going to annoy some people.
Even the announcement to clarify when it is mandatory to wear facemasks was muddled. A day before the decision, Michael Gove told interviewers the issue was “best left to people’s common sense” - the prime minister then explained that “people should be wearing them in shops”. Gove was then photographed buying lunch in a store without a mask after this announcement. This feels almost the same as Dominic Cummings’s infamous Barnard Castle escapade. If even senior cabinet members seem reluctant to follow the rules, why on earth should the public?
There are also questions about how easily this measure can be enforced. It has been announced that anyone without a mask in a supermarket will face a fine of £100 but police have warned about the stretch their resources will suffer if they are constantly dealing with breachers. Statistics show that there were 17,000 fines issued for breaches of lockdown rules but it remains to be seen how the number of fines for not wearing a mask will compare. If it cannot be imposed properly, more people may just choose to ignore the rule and attempt to get into shops anyway - with the likely results similar to images in America where angry customers scream at staff and security for being refused entry due to the lack of a mask. It's this kind of ignorance that is partly responsible for the US’s disastrous Covid-19 figures.
Yes, wear a damn mask. That should go without saying. But the government’s constant flip-flopping and hypocrisies only further muddy the water for people to act as though they can do as they please. It’s going to be all the more important to obey the rules in the coming months if we want to avoid the disastrous second wave that is being predicted by some.
So, one last time, wear a damn mask.
Disclaimer: All views expressed in this piece belong solely to the author and do not reflect the views of Demographica as a company