Britain to Boris: Please just wear a mask around David Attenborough

It is genuinely quite difficult to imagine a less appropriate occasion for the prime minister not to wear a mask

Rupert Hawksley
Wednesday 03 November 2021 10:13 GMT
Boris Johnson left baffled after being confronted over being maskless next to David Attenborough

Boris Johnson was clearly frustrated with Christiane Amanpour’s line of questioning over his lack of mask wearing. The CNN presenter, quite legitimately, wanted to know why Johnson had not worn one while sitting next to David Attenborough at Cop26. “You brought up the national treasure, Sir David Attenborough,” said Amanpour. “And there you all were in the plenary, he’s 95 years old, he was wearing a mask and you weren’t.”

Johnson, hunched over, narrowed his eyes, every bit as cross as a child being asked to finish their homework. He scanned the room, presumably seeking help from an aide. None forthcoming, he kept up the petulant act, his face folding into a scowl. “Right…” He might as well have said, “And your point is?”

Undeterred, Amanpour pushed on. “You weren’t wearing a mask yesterday, sitting next to 95-year-old national treasure David Attenborough.” The shirt collar tightening, Johnson then did what he always does and vomited out a series of entirely random words in no discernible order. It is the political equivalent of running at your opponent, arms windmilling.

“I’ve been, you know, wearing a mask when in confined spaces with people that I don’t normally meet,” he explained. “It’s up to people to make a judgement about whether they’re… whether they’re, you know, at a reasonable distance from someone and whether they’re with someone they don’t normally meet.”

Look, I don’t know exactly what company Johnson keeps on a daily basis but I think it’s reasonable to assume that he hasn’t formed a bubble with David Attenborough and UN secretary general Antonio Guterres, sat to Johnson’s right and also wearing a mask.

It is also genuinely quite difficult to imagine a less appropriate occasion not to wear a mask. Johnson, lest we forget, was sitting in a crowded room, surrounded by hundreds of people who have literally flown into Glasgow from all over the world and who will, very soon, be flying back out again all over the world. And one of those people was 95-year-old David Attenborough. If ever there was a time to wear a mask, this, surely, was it.

The Cop26 rules state, for the avoidance of any doubt, that attendees should, “wear a face covering at all times except when eating, drinking, sitting in office/meeting spaces or conducting negotiations; or if medically exempt”.

And the really frustrating thing is that Johnson is the prime minister of the country hosting a global summit on the climate crisis. Yet here we are, talking about masks. “Ah”, you might say, “so why are you writing about a silly little mask when the planet is on the brink of self-inflicted destruction? Look at the bigger picture, chum.” But that’s the point, isn’t it? By not doing the really very simple thing of hooking a bit of cloth over his mouth and nose, Johnson has, as is his wont, reduced the very serious to the faintly absurd. Don’t take umbrage with the response; examine the cause. If we just had a prime minister who could behave responsibly, we would indeed all be talking about the climate crisis. But we don’t and so we aren’t.

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But this is not just about optics. The Covid-19 statistics do not make for happy reading. There were 28,230 new cases of Covid recorded in the UK yesterday. That’s 497,713 in the past two weeks. The leader of the opposition has recently tested positive for Covid. This journey is far from over and we know, we absolutely know, that wearing a mask is good practice. Part of the reason why the UK’s Covid rates remain so much higher than those in the rest of Europe is, undoubtedly, that so few of us are wearing masks. We all have anecdotal evidence of this. People wearing masks are now often in the minority on many trains and buses and in busy public spaces.

We look to our leaders for guidance – for leadership – and what we see is Boris Johnson not bothering, not complying, not giving a damn. That’s why it matters and why you should care – even if Johnson doesn’t.

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