Many questions have arisen during the Covid-19 pandemic, but none more so than the questions surrounding face masks. On Friday 24 July, face masks became mandatory in England in all enclosed public spaces including supermarkets, banks, trains and airports. Failure to wear a mask could lead to a fine of up to £100.
These new proposed policies all come as a surprise to many. Even at the peak of the pandemic during March and April, face masks were never mandatory, only advised. Yet, with newly reported cases down to just over 750, it seems that the UK government continues to follow a Covid-19 policy that can only be described as too little too late, just like how they failed to lockdown 2 weeks earlier, possibly causing an increase in the Covid-19 death rate.
But, to play devil’s advocate, the flip-flopping on the usefulness of face masks throughout western countries has caused vast confusion not just for the general public, but for government and international agencies too. As late as the 31 March 2020, the WHO announced that it stood by ‘recommendation to not wear masks if you are not sick or caring for someone who is sick.’ Likewise, President Donald Trump also came under fire recently for wearing a face mask in public, when in April he had stated that ‘Wearing a face mask as I greet presidents, prime ministers, dictators, kings, queens-I just don’t see it.’
Numerous other negative comments surrounding face masks have arisen throughout England, with the New York times reporting that people in England would ‘rather be sick than embarrassed.’ Further evidence from a YouGov poll shows that only 21 percent of Britons said they wore a mask in public in June, compared to 79-92 percent of people from Asian nations.
This all begs the question as to why countries such as England have struggled so much to introduce and normalise face marks, whereas other nations – many in Asia – do not have this problem. One possibility could be the lack of scientific evidence surrounding the usefulness of face masks; however, another could be the prevalence of face mask wearing in Asian countries prior to the outbreak. The high pollution levels in countries such as China for example, force many on a daily base to take precautionary actions such as wearing a mask, something that is not done in cities such as London.
Either way, with the new measures in place, it seems that even though the science surrounding face masks is dubious, they are here to stay. Moreover, if there is one thing Britons hate more than wearing a face mask, its paying £100 for not wearing one.