Updated: Jul 27, 2020
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.