Whilst there were many more damaging aspects to lockdown restrictions, I found masks one of the most irritating. The removal of all the restrictions in July was a great liberation, but the potential for a return -set out in the Government’s plan B, with mandatory masking included- is most unwelcome.
As an Army officer training for chemical warfare, I was instructed that once I had ordered troops to mask-up, I then had to look for the first opportunity to un-mask, because masking led to physical deterioration in effectiveness and psychological disorientation -a growing sense of isolation. Of course, the military respirator we used was much worse than the Covid face coverings, yet people do tell me that they feel that sense of isolation and anxiety, that they find it sinister seeing so many people masked, as social beings facial expression is one of the subtle ways we communicate.
In Parliament there is definitely something political about masks: In a crowded House of Commons at Prime Minister’s Questions there won’t be an unmasked face on the Labour benches, whereas on the Conservative side there will be only be half-a-dozen masked faces at most.
Had it not actually happened, I would never have believed that a Conservative government would order us to wear masks and introduce fines for those who disobeyed: how very un-British.
That extraordinary intrusion into our personal choices took place when the lockdown was over; we had survived the first wave without the NHS being overwhelmed; all the shops were open again; then -out of the blue- came this order to mask-up without any prior parliamentary debate or vote.
For years the World Health Organisation assessment was that masks were ineffective at preventing the spread of disease. Then that advice conveniently changed overnight just when governments were looking for new tools to change normal social behaviour, as enforced lockdowns were coming to an end.
When our government announced its new masking rules, that very evening at the daily televised briefing, the Deputy Chief Medical officer gave the game away: She was asked for the scientific evidence to support the new policy on masks; her reply was that it was not a matter of evidence but of providing ‘reassurance’.
So, having so successfully terrified us with the dangers of the virus, they then had to find something make us feel safe enough to go back out into the everyday world but at the same time to provide an ‘in-your-face’ reminder not to indulge in too much ordinary social intercourse.
It these respects masks do work: There is no doubt many people are reassured by wearing them and by finding others wearing them. Equally, they do provide a highly visible and constant reminder to behave differently to normal: They are a means of social control.
I doubt however, that masks prevent the spread of disease. This is not question for medical expertise: Just think of it from an engineering point of view; the mesh that makes up the material with which you cover your face contains microscopic holes that are 5000 times larger than the virus which can pass through them. They can only have the most marginal effect. I suppose that ‘every little helps’ , but then consider the habit people have of constantly fiddling with them – completely undermining the original advice we were given to wash our hands and keep them away from our faces. Add to this mix the fact that so many of us wear the same mask again and again.
In the end it is a matter of opinion, and everyone is entitled to their own. Personally, I disliked having to appear as if I were about to rob a bank