Of course face masks have been a feature of travel in the Far East for ages. Walk around Hong Kong or Singapore and you cannot have failed to notice that many of the residents are wearing masks as they go about their daily lives. At global hub airports like Helsinki or Doha it was the same, with predominantly Asian passengers all wearing masks. I remember being amazed at seeing people in downtown Helsinki all masked up with the temperature substantially below zero, my thinking back then being that airborne viruses couldn't possibly survive or be transmitted in that kind of weather. How little I knew probably.
Fast forward to 2021 and masks are here in Europe, and here to stay. Last weekend I was in Madrid where mask wearing was at 100%. In the airport, on public transport, in the supermarket, everyone had a mask on, including young people and kids. In these environments there were no dissenters. None. Outside, walking along the pavement, in parks, waiting for buses, stopping for a chat, a good 80% of people still had masks on, and of those that didn't many had them on their chins or hanging from one ear. It is a fact of life now supported by science. You're not wearing a mask to protect yourself from inhaling COVID, you're wearing a mask to limit the amount and distance of what you exhale. You're protecting others, and when they are also wearing a mask so much the better. Spain was one of the first European countries to really suffer in the pandemic, and so in Spain the benefit of wearing masks is understood and people comply.
Which brings me to this country. This ridiculous country. My intention here was not to preach, but honestly how hard is wearing a mask? When I landed back at Heathrow and got on the tube mask-wearing was basically at 100%. As the Piccadilly rattled eastwards this gradually declined and by the time we reached central London I'd estimate it was at less than 50%. Switching to the Central Line the proportion fell yet further, and on my home turf of Leytonstone I reckon it was down to a quarter, perhaps less. One morning a couple of weeks ago I was almost the sole person in my carriage wearing one. I simply don't understand it. There are signs everywhere. When you enter the station, on the platform, plastered all over the carriages. Walking along concourses tannoy announcements regularly state that the wearing of masks on London's transport network is mandatory. And yet this ignored. Not by a few people, not by a small cadre of the particularly militant, but by almost everyone. There are so many people not bothering that challenging this is pointless, and so it goes entirely unenforced. I have never seen anyone ask anyone to put one on, or ask why they're not wearing one. I've never seen an official stop anyone, nobody says anything. I don't know why this annoys me quite as much as it does. I don't like wearing a mask either, it hurts my ears and it makes it harder to breathe heavily, for instance after going up steps, particularly as I continue to recover. Remembering to take one everywhere I go is also a pain, and many is the time I have had to turn around and go home to fetch one. But I do it. And I just don't understand the attitude of those that don't. Surely there cannot be this many conspiracy theorists living amongst us? Is it two fingers up to the authorities, an act of defiance? If so it is a pretty stupid one. Or is it that wearing masks is a sign of weakness in some way, and in order to show how tough you are you don't wear one? Hah, I am not scared of this puny virus, it is just another little flu! I am so virile I will resist it! Perhaps it might be cosmetic? My perception is that there is definitely a correlation between pouty instagram types and a lack of masks. Messes with their makeup perhaps? I think there are also demographic correlations but to try and explain that with the delicacy that 2021 requires is more than I am prepared to do for a blog post that very few people will ever read. There are many reasons no doubt, all of them irrational. Suffice it to say that I am disappointed each and every time that I get on public transport at the behaviour of many of my fellow citizens, and until I actually caught COVID it limited the number of times per week I was prepared to risk it. I am considerably less nervous at the moment of course, and I'm participating in an NHS antibody study whereby I send off small vials of blood from time to time and they then tell me if I have any or not. So far so good, and so for now the Central Line holds less fear for me.
I've not been to Germany, Holland, Austria or Russia, countries currently in the grip of a massive new wave of COVID cases, and so have no idea what their wearing of masks is like and if it is comparable to Spain or not? Ie does it actually make a difference in the real world? Everything points to a low uptake of vaccines, but presumably those that refuse vaccines are not big mask-wearers either? I know I said I wouldn't preach but I keep coming back to one salient fact. This virus kills people. It destroys families and doesn't discriminate based on what you think about it, what you read on Facebook, or what you think about the Government. The people dying are mothers and fathers, husbands and wives, grandmas and grandpas, and even some children. The person sitting opposite you on the tube is unlikely to be all alone in this world, they will have family and a social network. If something as incredibly simple as wearing a mask for a short while means that person stands a lower chance of getting it and of passing it on, I cannot think of a single reason why you would not.