May I call you Sarah? In these days of social media you might well be Sergei, a computer whizz, hacking out of a basement flat in St Petersburg. But I checked your profile, your number of followers and the style of your posts (and your impressive range of expletives), and I reckon you are, in fact, human. So:
You sprang to my attention as I performed the ‘scroll of boredom’; normally an indicator that I have something far more important that I should be doing. You had posted a photo of your beautiful grown-up daughter smiling to camera, with the accompanying text: “Proud Mum!”.
The text continued: “My brave daughter removes her mask in the supermarket…and is FREE AT LAST.”
Now at this point, I should declare an interest. My wife is on the ‘Extremely Vulnerable’ register. This means if she does get Covid-19, it will be serious, with death a distinct possibility. And as a double whammy, she is also immunosuppressed. She has generated next to no antibodies from her two vaccines.
Put simply, she has no Covid-19 protection. She (and, therefore I) have been isolating since February 2020. We have only escaped our isolation for hospital visits for her bi-monthly immunosuppressant top-ups, and my occasional trips to chemists for medicines (essential since the Government saw fit to terminate this support for us).
So, when certain people feel they can throw caution to the wind with joyous abandon on matters of Covid-19 safety, I confess to getting a little jittery. You see, Sarah, the only hope of release from our constrained lifestyle is for the number of Covid-19 cases in our community to reduce to such a low level that the possibility of her coming into contact with an infected person is near-zero.
I won’t at this stage go further into her medical details because, of course, this is not just about my wife. It’s about the innumerable others who are in a similar position. And I use the word ‘innumerable’ advisedly. We literally do not know the exact number, but estimates of 3.8 million clinically vulnerable people in the UK have been mentioned.
Anyway, as you know, I decided to engage with you in an attempt to understand something of your reasoning on the issue. I think the word that first triggered me was you referring to your daughter as “brave” for, well basically, breaking what was still the law when she broke it and putting others’ lives at risk.
You see, that is not really how I would gauge a brave person. I consider that my late dear best friend was brave. A survivor of both cancer and MS, a brilliant artist who still had much to give, he was locked to his ventilator for two weeks before he took his actual last breath. On the fateful day, after talking to his sister on a video call, he turned to the nurse and asked quietly: “Can you switch me off now?” You can probably tell his passing has left me raw.
But perhaps I am being unjust here. Your daughter was, after all, breaking the law fighting for what she believed to be right. A little freedom fighter in her own way; a Covid-19 Black Panther, a member of the paramilitary wing of the anti-mask militia. Perhaps she will start a mask-burning craze like the feminists two generations before were doing with their bras.
So, clearly, it is the masks, or as I see you like to term them, ‘spitrags’, which are the primary bone of contention for you and your daughter. It would seem you had reluctantly agreed to the vaccinations and complied with most of the Government restrictions … up until now. But, after all those perceived personal sacrifices of yours, the wearing of a mask at this point in the pandemic is one irritant too far.
Now, although I’m locked down, I’m not without some mask-wearing experience. I wear them down to the hospital, to those chemists and, very occasionally for an emergency shop. The biggest problem I find with them is the same as I used to have, pre-lockdown, with those Bags For Life. I’d leave the car and head for the shop, only to have to return to the car for the forgotten bags. It’s the same now, only it’s the flipping mask I return for.
I am a specs wearer too so, of course, I suffer from that sudden and inexplicable steaming up of the glasses. But generally, masks are really not a problem for me, and I regularly forget I’m wearing one until I’ve driven all the way home, entered my front door and my wife has reminded me it was still stuck there. Since our conversation, I thought I would check with some retail workers who have to wear them all day. Every query to the shopkeepers I talked to was met with a shrug of the shoulders, a quizzical “Eh?”, or even, in one case, a “Whatya on about?”
But, Sarah, it would appear you are not so lucky. Apparently, your ‘spitrag’ blocks your airways and gags you. I questioned if you suffered unfortunate underlying respiratory issues. You said not, and your choice of expression was simply a “turn of phrase”.
You then turned your attention to the conspiratorial nature of enforced mask-wearing. The ubiquitous comparisons with flu – I carefully explained the differences between flu and Sars-Cov-2 type viruses. I sensed you weren’t too impressed.
I countered your “there’s no scientific proof that masks cut down infection” with a suggestion that you Google ‘Covid-19 mask efficacy’. I told you that you will discover that the overwhelming weight of evidence is in favour of wearing a mask. I pointed you, in particular, to a fair, balanced and easy to understand review of the evidence of the efficacy of masks.
I think this was the point at which you questioned my credentials, so I pointed you to the Amazon listing for my computer modelling book and teasingly suggested it might make a fine addition to your library. A badly judged joke! You accused me of blatant marketing. I think, at this point, I was beginning to see the winning post receding.
I brought the subject around to SAGE and indie SAGE and their more general thoughts on the efficacy of mask-wearing. Yet again, no joy. Apparently, they are nothing but paid stooges. By now I could see that we were heading at breakneck speed into the realms of dodgy conspiracy theories.
But things were to get worse.
There’s a curious phenomenon of the social media feed. Progressing these conversations is a bit like traversing the grottier end of a city high street. Interesting and quirky, yet off to either side lie the narrow dark alleys and ancient lanes, where lies who knows what; maybe angels, maybe demons.
Thus, we had an unexpected input from a Reverend Richards, retired Tax Inspector and Preacher at the Glorious Church of The Gospels. He expounded the view that it was the vaccine that had actually caused Covid-19 in the first place and, when I queried what the UK government’s purpose might be in creating this GLOBAL pandemic (!), he confidently informed me it was because they’d accidentally over-ordered on PPE.
In a less Christian moment, he also told me that anyone who wants to wear a mask should also wear a bag over their head, so he doesn’t have to witness the “abhorrence of the mask” or, indeed, the rest of their “hideous” face. I thanked him for his most useful contribution.
But then JaneMer4 popped into our discussion and inquired about a paper she had read that seemed to suggest that masks served no purpose in protecting against Covid-19. I asked her if it was the Danish review study in the British Medical Journal which is doing the rounds and has been widely interpreted as anti-mask. Indeed it was that very study. Spoiler: it’s not anti-mask.
Notwithstanding, interesting diversions; both.
You see, Sarah, and I know this is going to sound patronising, but I know you. I’m old enough to say I’ve met you several times before.
- In the mid sixties the first speed cameras were introduced. It was you who said that it was an infringement on your rights as an individual. And anyway, what happens if you need to get to hospital in a hurry? What’s more, cameras were only installed to make money for the police. There wasn’t even any proof that cameras prevented accidents anyway.
- Later that same decade you complained about compulsory seat belts and how that was an infringement on your freedom. What if you were heavily pregnant? The pressure of the belt would surely damage your unborn. You mentioned the possibility of cars crashes with drivers trapped inside and dying because they were wearing seatbelts. Sadly, you could find no supporting evidence for this.
- The breathalyser was in your opinion notoriously unreliable and, with your metabolism, heaven knows what reading it might give. Furthermore, limiting your alcohol intake was a clear infringement of your civil liberties.
So you see, Sarah, you have been making your presence known since time immemorial. Outspoken for a short period, but then quickly fading into the fog of time. I’d like to have succeeded in persuading you that, alongside handwashing and social distancing, masks are a simple baseline protection against the Covid-19 virus. Not, I admit, as strong a defence as, say, the vaccination or lockdown, but an additional defence none the less. A shield which costs us little or nothing financially or, for most people, in terms of inconvenience.
I see now that your objection is one of symbolism related to freedom of expression, rather than any physical discomfort from wearing the mask. You are prepared to measure the value of peoples’ lives in little pieces of 4”x7” material. What is depressing from my perspective is that, if I had succeeded in flipping your opinion on masks, there are many, many more Sarahs out there, some with less influence than you; but some, alas, with a great deal more.
Yesterday, I happened to hear Jacob Rees-Mogg’s podcast (The Moggcast as he terms it). https://www.conservativehome.com/highlights/2021/07/the-moggcast-i-will-not-be-wearing-a-mask-what-would-be-the-point.html
In it, he tells us that he believes masks do nothing but channel our inner socialism (about 5 minutes into the podcast). He says, like you, that he believes he has done his bit for society with regard to Covid-19, but now enough is enough.
At first, I was shocked but, after a little consideration, I think I can see where he’s coming from. The mask, unlike those other safety devices I mentioned earlier, (the seatbelts, breathalysers etc) does indeed protect the wearer, but the evidence suggests that the Covid-19 mask offers more protection to that greater other. Is that not a socialist principle? I should perhaps also mention that Rees-Mogg goes on to say that other examples of socialist values involve: controlling what time we get out of bed, sleep, eat, the number of children we have (‘like in China’) and, curiously, something about Labour wanting to ban battered Mars Bars.
You, Sarah, are of course entitled to your fact-addled, uncorroborated, ill-thought through opinions on masks, even though they have the potential to cause great harm and death to society. You are just an inconsequential member of an irrelevant minority in a population of nearly seventy million. But Jacob Rees-Mogg is an elected representative, democratically voted in by thirty thousand individuals, each of whom had a free choice. Now that I find truly disturbing.