In the last five months since lockdown was first imposed, we have continually heard a new set of buzz words in association with Covid-19 - PPE, self isolation, social distancing, flattening the curve, pandemic. We have been told we must accept these changes in our lives as the 'new normal'.
Working from home or avoiding crowds if sick may not seem that different from the norm, but since this week the mandatory wearing of masks is something few may have envisioned in March. And with that can come resistance and misconceptions.
The Government has previously taken a softly-softly approach, but that is now over and it is to be welcomed. The bottom line is that wearing a mask makes us more aware of living in an environment where we can be infected or infect others far too easily if we don't wear a mask. It is a scary thought that researchers believe some 40 per cent of people infected with the virus suffer no symptoms - but if they sneeze, cough, or even talk, droplets can still be spread and infect others.
Wearing a mask is an important way to try to halt the spread, while also continuing to practice social distancing and handwashing. Yes, some people may feel discomfort, certainly people with spectacles may suffer the most due to glass fogging, and some may simply feel self conscious, but the bottom line is that wearing a mask will make people feel safer, while also making the wearer feel safe too, and that will have a positive impact on our mental health.
Understandably many may feel we should have been requested to wear masks from the start, particularly in public places and indoors. Vietnam made the move on March 16, the Czech Republic became the first country in Europe to make masks mandatory in supermarkets, pharmacies and on public transport on March 18, Slovakia and Austria followed, Turkey made the move on April 7, Germany on April 27, and Scotland more recently on July 10.
And in many Asian countries, particularly China and Japan, it is the social norm, showing consideration of others and to help contain the spread of germs. Unsurprising then that the custom of face mask-wearing began in Japan at the time of the 1918 influenza pandemic which wiped out between 20 and 40 million people around the world.
It may well be that as a country we have not been prepared to wear masks, but after five months of Covid-19, new mask protocols are overdue and the evidence suggests it will make a difference.
Recent research has shown that places with mask mandates have led to slowdown in Covid-19, while another study looked at coronavirus deaths across 198 countries and found those with cultural norms or government policies favouring mask-wearing had lower death rates.
Wearing a mask can only be a positive. Shoppers can now wander store aisles with greater ease and more comfort, local seamstresses are being kept in business, and most importantly the country can feel it is doing everything it can in the fight against Covid-19.
So for those who feel they are above the law, don’t think the rules apply to them, please understand that wearing a face covering can prevent the virus from spreading, not just to themselves, but to their families, and their community. Wear a face mask for everybody's sake.