It’s a relatively slow news day, so let us place on record our thanks to the British Prime Minister for this tasty and controversial content:
Face masks will become mandatory in shops across England, ministers are to announce on Tuesday, following mixed messages, a cabinet split and mounting pressure on Boris Johnson to change public advice.
New legislation will not come into force until Friday 24 July, however, raising concerns over the risk of coronavirus spreading over the next 10 days as lockdown is eased.
Enforcement, which will include a fine of up to £100 for non-compliance, will be down to police, though shop staff will be expected to encourage the policy, No 10 said.
A fine for not wearing a mask in public? Boris has come a long way from giving out about people wearing Burkas looking like bank robbers and letterboxes, hasn’t he?
Anyway, here’s the thing: Boris is right, and so is the Irish Government, but only after being wrong for so long that people, quite reasonably, no longer trust them.
After all, Dublin is in the middle of its own push for face masks, making them compulsory on public transport. And it’s very reasonable for the average person to ask a simple question: What’s changed now since the height of the pandemic? This was on the 12th of April:
Dr Kim Roberts of the Trinity College virology department told The Irish Times that while there was some evidence suggesting face masks when worn correctly can have “a modest effect” on reducing transmission of Covid-19, “if not worn correctly, masks can pose as a hazard and can potentially increase the risk of transmission of the virus”.
She was speaking as their use proliferated around the world, with some countries changing their advice in recent days to make masks mandatory in certain public spaces.
Last week, the World Health Organisation (WHO) voiced concern that the wearing of medical masks by the general public could exacerbate shortages for health workers on the front lines of the pandemic.
So were the experts – the WHO, and Dr. Kim Roberts, and the Irish and UK Governments, wrong in April, or are they wrong now?
It’s one of the great public policy u-turns of recent years, but to read the rest of the media, you’d think we had, to coin a phrase, always been at war with Eastasia.
This is from April 2nd:
“Here in Ireland, HSE lead for infectious diseases Prof Martin Cormican recently reviewed guidelines on mask-wearing for hospital staff and came to the conclusion that there was no evidence to support the wearing of surgical masks by healthcare workers for close patient encounters and staff meetings.
Citing WHO advice, Prof Cormican suggested mask-wearing by people with no symptoms could create unnecessary cost and create “a false sense of security”.
Here’s the thing: Either the advice from the Government was horrendously wrong in April, or it is horrendously wrong now. The Government advised people not to wear masks at the height of the pandemic, but is making them compulsory today. One thing that we know for sure: The coronavirus is still the coronavirus. It hasn’t changed, and it hasn’t suddenly started respecting masks, or passing through them. If facemasks help today, they would have helped in April. If facemasks were useless in April, they are useless today.
The infuriating thing about all of this, though, is that Government is entirely unwilling to address its past statements, because that would involve the Government saying “we were wrong”. And so, instead, we have this absurd situation where the ordinary person is being criminalised for believing what their own Government told them in April.
Personally, I’m wearing a mask in public – but I was wearing one in April too. But it’s very hard to blame people who believed the Government, and are now being made criminals for listening to the Government’s advice on the subject.