The Prime Minister has clearly stated that face coverings must now be worn in shops, as well as on public transport. This seems like a simple request: so then why are so many people against the idea of wearing a mask?
Wearing a mask or face covering is meant to prevent us from spreading coronavirus in the eventuality of us having the virus and being asymptomatic. Therefore, what is being asked of us is to wear a mask primarily for the protection of others, and for others to wear a mask to protect us. Perhaps, this taps into one of the reasons so many people are unenthusiastic about donning a mask: it requires us to look out for one another and do our part, i.e. wear a mask, to ensure the safety of others and to rely on others to ensure ours. Perhaps, the response would be different if the message was that a mask would stop us from catching the virus. Perhaps, despite what we’ve all been through these past few months, we are still programmed to look out for ourselves.
Of course, I should not generalise, as this will not be the case for everyone. There are people who are wearing a mask and have been for a while, and there are also people who cannot wear a mask and are exempt from wearing one. Some also seem to be taking the requirement to wear a mask in their stride, supporting small businesses by buying handmade masks, equipping themselves for their next outing to the shops.
However, those who do not wish to wear a mask give numerous reasons why they shouldn’t. Among these, some complain about their glasses steaming up, some feel unable to breathe freely and feel claustrophobic, and others complain of the masks causing discomfort on the ears. While I understand that these are all uncomfortable downsides to wearing a mask, they are, however, negatives that people who have been wearing a mask from the beginning have also had to deal with and endure. Think of all the medical staff, for example, wearing PPE for hours on end. Suddenly, it does not seem such a great sacrifice to have to wear a mask for an hour-long shopping trip.
Above all, however, the underlying problem people have with mask wearing is the removal of choice. Society is used to rules, but these are rules we are not accustomed to. We may have slowly grown used to queuing outside shops, but, until recently, when going into a shop before the new rules about masks, one would see a mixture of mask wearers and non-mask wearers. Being obligated to wear a mask provokes the same feelings of entrapment that are caused by the changes in our daily lives since the outbreak of coronavirus. We had considerably less freedom during lockdown and, now that restrictions are slowly being eased, we still find ourselves with choices taken away from us. We must wear a mask if we want to go to the shops, or risk being fined or turned away. Essentially, the problems people have with mask wearing stem from their frustrations about the life we are now calling the ‘new normal’. People want their old normal back.
While these sentiments are understandable, we are all in this together, and we must all realise that wearing a mask is important for the safety and the health of everyone in our society. So, in the words of Jennifer Aniston, ‘Just wear a damn mask and encourage those around you to do the same’.
Photo courtesy of Georgia Hunt