Just Wear A Fucking Mask

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Scoffing at the idea wearing a protective face covering in public places is neither big or clever.

On Friday, the wearing of masks in a variety of public places became mandatory in the UK. Being a British law, the list of places that require masks and those that don’t is oddly random – you have to wear one in a shopping centre but not a cinema, a bank but not a cinema – but on the whole, if you want to go shopping, you’ll need to cover your nose and face. This joins the existing rules surrounding masks (or, more accurately, ‘face coverings’) on public transport.

The news that wearing masks was to become mandatory has resulted in furious outrage by certain sections of society. Of all the issues to emerge during lockdown, none seems quite as split along political lines – or quite as upsetting for some – as mask-wearing. It seems that the more right-wing you are, the more that wearing a facial covering is seen as some horrendous imposition upon your personal freedom. The Left, on the other hand, seem to be embracing it more – or so they claim. The evidence of protests and the observation of simply walking down a busy street would suggest that in practice, they are just as reluctant to obey the rules, but if for no other reason than the fact that the Right so vehemently oppose it, the Left have – on paper – embraced it.

The Right’s lunatic fringe has a weird fixation on the idea that covering your face is a dreadful assault on freedoms. To hell with Covid-19, which to be fair, a lot of them always thought was either overblown or possibly a fictional invention of the New World Order to begin with. Masks, we are told, do not work – or if they do, they only stop you coughing the virus out (which by itself doesn’t seem a bad thing, given how many people are supposed to be asymptomatic super spreaders). The mask will not stop you breathing it in, although if both parties are masked, then probelm solved, surely (and in any case, evidence shows that a fitted mask of non-woven fibre can reduce the chances of breathing in viruses by anything from 50 – 70%). ‘Muzzles’, as the sort of people who also use the term ‘bedwetters’ to describe anyone who doesn’t want to immediately resume competitive spitting contests call them, are obviously some sort of government plot – to do what is unclear, though ‘Project Fear’ has been one of their catchphrases for the whole pandemic, so I guess it is to both keep us cowed and test how much they can control our lives before injecting us with mind-control drugs under the guise of a vaccine. #KeepBritainFree, or KBF is the new rallying cry of blockheads across the country, the right-wing answer to the Remain’s lunatic fringe of #FBPE social media handles.

As a libertarian, I might be expected to go along with all this delirium, but for me, libertarianism doesn’t mean individual freedom at the expense of others. You can still give a toss about other people. And I understand that we have some restrictions placed on us for the greater good, and that complying with those restrictions is more social consciousness than sheep-like obedience. Notably, I’m also forced to wear clothes when I go the the shops – okay, technically public nudity is not illegal, but just try walking down the street and into Tesco stark naked and see what happens. Someone will call the cops and you’ll probably be arrested. Just ask the Naked Rambler. Similarly, my freedom to not wear a seatbelt while driving holding a mobile phone in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other has been curtailed by law, because without the law forcing people to do it, then people won’t. And let’s be honest – a seatbelt is pretty much only for your own protection, while masks – if we all wear them – will help stop the stread of a virus that has killed a lot of people.

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You can be arrested for pissing and wanking and fucking in the street, and no one – okay, hardly anyone – seems to think that that is a terrible imposition on your freedoms, even though it really doesn’t cause any actual harm to other people. Spitting is seen by most normal people as antisocial and unhealthy. So why the panic about masks? How is covering the bottom of your face such a terrible imposition that people have to whine and moan and proclaim their rebellion in not doing so as though they are Joan of Arc or something?

Here’s the thing: if masks help prevent the spread of cornoavirus (or, honestly, any virus), then wearing them should be a no-brainer. If they don’t work, where’s the harm? It’s not as though they increase the chances of infection, so at worst the situation is no different from being unmasked. Sure, I see the anti-mask brigade talking about breathing issues and such as if they really, really care about the health of others – but I’m asthmatic, and if I can wear a mask for the time it takes to walk around a supermarket or in crowded places, so can anyone else. I’ve heard the argument that wearing masks breeds complacency – that people won’t be as cautious. But given that the people who say this tend to be those who also like to tell us that Covid is less deadly than the sniffles and have entirely disrearded social distancing as well, I think we can ignore their sudden concerns. They’re not fooling anyone.

The fact that the government dithered over whether or not masks helped (influenced by the now thoroughly discredited World Health Organisation and the understandable fear that while PPE was in short supply, it might not be a great idea to encourage the public to snap up vital stocks) shouldn’t matter, but I see people who have slammed Boris Johnson for not acting soon enough in every other area of this pandemic now accusing him of bowing to public pressure and having a knee-jerk reaction. To say “why bother now?” is rather like saying “I haven’t crashed my car while driving pissed for years, so what’s the point of outlawing it?”. Better late than never. The fact is: the evidence in favour of masks as reducing risk (though no, not eliminating it) has been out there for months, and if we could find it, so could everyone else. Ideally, everyone would have been wearing masks as a sensible precaution for five months, but walking down any street shows you that a large amount of the public are self-absorbed dickheads who not only won’t mask up, but also can’t even keep their social distance. It seems masks are the price we need to pay for opening the world up again, given that coughers, splutterers, groin scratchers and finger lickers will now be pushing past you in Aldi or Waitrose before sneezing over the tomatoes. Not only will face coverings stop other people from spreading their germs across your food, but they might discourage you from sub-consciously sticking your fingers in your mouth after touching the same packet of chicken wings that five other shoppers have picked up and put back before you. Win-win!

And hell, there are now so many masks out there, you can’t even moan about the fact that it looks horrible and medical. There are hundreds – maybe thousands – of designs available (obviously, steer clear of mesh masks though, as useful as the proverbial chocolate teapot). Style those fuckers out, people – make the mask as much a part of your individuality as anything else you wear. I’m seeing people combining masks with their entire outfit, with hats, with eye make-up and dammit, they look a lot cooler than cadaverous misfits like this pair of edgy rebels:

To be fair though, if anything was going to make the undecided wear masks, it’s probably looking at the gaggle of conspiracy theorists, attention seekers, far right fruitcakes and ultra-nationalists that make up the bulk of the anti-mask movement – who would want to be in a club that had them as members? I’m know there are sensible people with genuine, considered concerns about mask wearing – I’ve met them and I can even sympathise with their arguments (although I’ve done enough extensive research to know that they are still wrong). I know there are problems with masks – especially for people who are required to wear them for hours at a time. It’s not a perfect answer. But seriously, anti-maskers – look at your fellow travellers. Are you not embarrassed to be in their company?

No one seems to object to hand sanitiser – though for all I know, there’s an entire campaign against it – despite the fact that the sanitiser stations in a lot of shops seem the most unsanitary part of the place, and are rarely using the alcohol-based sanitiser needed to kill viruses anyway. Yet masks, bandanas, scarves or whatever else are apparently a step to totalitarianism. But if you oppose lockdown and want it to end, then masks seem a great way of helping us get back to some level of normaility while acknowledging the fact that things are not normal – and, whisper it quietly, may never be again. Covering your face on trips out does not seem an especially onerous imposition if it stops Covid-19 from evolving into becoming more effective at airbourne transmission, keeps the vulnerable safe and allows us to to at least get back to being a functioning country.

Of course, shops are already saying that they won’t enforce the rules (they could, of course, just refuse service to anyone unmasked, but having already seen people kicking off over being asked to stand two metres apart in checkout queues, I don’t blame them for not bothering) and several police forces have also said they they won’t enforce it (too busy arresting people for making offensive comments on Twitter, I guess), so the mask rebels are not exactly risking anything  – beyond their own health and that of others, of course – by their showy disobedience. It’s still, in the real world, a choice and if you think it is such a dreadful restriction of your civil liberties, feel free to disobey it. Perhaps you’ll become the voice of the people and lead the resistance. But equally, you might be seen as self-centered nutters, up there with drink drivers in terms of social contempt for their pointless, empty gesture politics. Is it really that important to you?

So, you know… just wear a fucking mask.

DAVID FLINT

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