Guidance on Face Masks Divides Opinion

“From Friday this week, face coverings will become mandatory in all shopping centres and supermarkets throughout the entire United Kingdom.”

This article appeared in the print edition of the Evening Telegraph: 20/07/2020 [Online] Available:  [Accessed: 2020, Jul 21] 

Later this week, face coverings will become mandatory in all shopping centres and supermarkets throughout the United Kingdom. From Friday onwards, anyone caught without wearing one could be fined up to £100. Nothing to see here, you might say, for those of us living in Scotland where this has been an existential reality since 10 July with the accompaniment of a lesser fine. However, the announcement last week was quite the volte-face from a government who rejected their necessity in March.

Prior to lockdown, Deputy Chief Medical Officer for England Dr Jenny Harries had specified that face masks should only be used at the behest of professional medical advice, stating their use could potentially lead to contamination and the transfer of coronavirus. The change of direction was, therefore, wholly unexpected by the public but even more so for rank-and-file Conservatives, amongst whom there is now a grass-roots rebellion and public acts of membership card-cutting spreading online.

The announcement was also a surprise to – but no less of a welcome one by – Scotland’s First Minister, whose government has tended to follow the UK Government in easing lockdown measures rather than the latter rowing in the opposite direction. Having tweeted her support for their decision, Nicola Sturgeon also commended the public via social media for adhering to measures in Scotland, claiming she had observed that making face coverings mandatory had “resulted in close to 100% compliance.”

I have never accused the First Minister of being wilfully deceitful, and I will not start now, but I will state my informed view here that she is highly mistaken. I know her constituency of Glasgow Southside extremely well, having worked with multiple voluntary projects in the area serving her constituents for years. It is an area spliced between the austerity of the Gorbals and Govanhill and the prosperity of Pollokshaws and Queen’s Park. I suspect her “observation” did not include shops in Govanhill.

Those familiar with Govanhill, for instance, will be aware it has a thriving Roma community, a substantial number of whose citizens do not speak English as a first language and will not be tuning in to Ms Sturgeon’s daily briefings to ensure their adherence to social distancing measures. Even closer to home in Dundee, I have been in five different supermarkets since the new guidelines were implemented and, not once, have I identified anywhere near 100% compliance, even from staff themselves.

Having read and reflected upon the guidance on face masks, I consider it ill-informed and have not, nor do I intend to, adhere to it. If face masks are deemed essential in spreading transmission why only introduce a mandate in phase three, during which zero deaths have been registered due to Covid-19 in the seven days prior to the writing of this article, rather than in phases one and two when hundreds were still contracting coronavirus every day? At this point, the guidance makes no sense.