Elderly woman shopping shopper

Source: Unsplash

Many people are still so spooked by the government’s fear campaign they cling to masks as a comforter

We’ve had 16 long months of wearing masks, yet ‘freedom day’ in England was a missed opportunity to make mask-free our default setting.

I always felt the notional protection offered by such flimsy disposables and frequently dirty pieces of fabric was more wishful thinking than fact.

And so much of the science on mask efficacy is ambivalent.

The World Health Organisation, for instance, says there is “only limited and inconsistent scientific evidence to support the effectiveness of masking of healthy people in the community to prevent infection with respiratory viruses, including SARS-CoV-2”, yet it recommends mask wearing, including indoors and in shops, “as part of a package of prevention and control measures”.

Views amongst individual scientists could hardly be more polarised.

Recently Dr Colin Axon, who advised Sage on minimising the risk of cross-infection in supermarkets, has accused some medics of presenting a ”cartoonish” view of them.

“The best thing you can say about any mask,” he concludes, “is that any positive effect they do have is too small to be measured”.

Mask zealot Professor Trisha Greenhalgh represents the diametrically opposite argument.

Because face coverings have tiny holes, she tells us to insert a panty liner as a filter inside our mask, then stretch a pair of tights around our heads to make it fit more snugly.

“Cartoonish”? Well, it made me smile.

For Dr Axon, however, masks are merely a “comfort blanket” for people who are still so spooked by the government’s fear campaign that they need to be encouraged to rejoin humanity.

Pressure put on us to wear face coverings indefinitely to reassure the perpetually fearful, and signal we are “compassionate” citizens, overlooks the many harms masks cause.

They are, for instance, a nightmare for the hard of hearing.

And I watch elderly shoppers who can’t see their feet for their mask and their steamed-up spectacles picking their way around the supermarket, fumbling with a hanky because the mask makes their nose run. These are falls waiting to happen.

Steeply elevated rates of mental illness and the emergence of the condition now dubbed ‘Covid anxiety syndrome’ throw into relief what happens when people are cut off from ‘old normal’ human interaction.

Some people never see a smiling face. We humans were not made to live that way. Social interaction is part of a well-lived life for anyone who isn’t a hermit.

Notice also how the loudest advocates of masks are academics and politicians. Unlike many rank-and-file workers, they aren’t obliged to wear masks for the entirety of their working day, even as temperatures rise insufferably. I’ll bet most people who demand mask mandates have cool gardens to retreat to of an evening.

If clinically vulnerable people choose to remain masked and adopt a precautionary lifestyle, like shopping at quieter times, I’m fine with that.

But the rest of us must not drift into a weird world where emotional blackmail to wear masks trumps every other consideration.