They’re lifting lockdown without compulsory face masks. Is the government really that stupid?

The government has finally decided to make face coverings compulsory on public transport from 15 June. The obvious question is, why not now?

James Moore
Saturday 06 June 2020 13:52
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Face coverings will be mandatory on public transport after 15 June, government announces

Having spent years watching the British government I thought I’d become immune to its follies, its apparent terminal addiction to entirely avoidable bouts of head-scratching stupidity.

Lately, however, I’ve been getting a headache from trying to remember to excise the F-ing when I end up shouting out “are they really that F-ing stupid” for the ninth time with the kids in earshot.

Take masks, or face coverings, which you’d think would have become as common as T-shirts in hot weather, but are still only donned by a minority when they’re out and about, and a small one at that if an admittedly unscientific survey of my local Tesco is anything to go by.

Belatedly, the government has decided to make them compulsory on public transport. Wait, what, is this, could it be… an outbreak of common sense? Um no. The requirement will only come into force on 15 June.

The obvious question is why not now? Why on earth not now? Are they really that F… sorry! Sorry, sorry, sorry.

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Seriously, you’re opening up the country when the science you’ve always quoted is deeply equivocal about whether it’s the right thing to do, and yet you’re going to wait nine days before enforcing a measure that doctors say will lower the risk.

How many extra coronavirus cases, and even deaths, avoidable ones, will be the result of the government not listening to them? It’s impossible to say. The British Medical Association just says the risk would be “much less” if the requirement was imposed now.

So the word “some” would seem to be appropriate. If the government thinks people need a transition period, maybe time to get hold of a mask (but Grant Shapps, have your people in the Department of Transport still not heard of Amazon, eBay, even the local pharmacy where they’re fairly easy to find?) then what’s wrong with, say, bringing the measure in on Monday 8 June?

Answers on a postcard, please, but I’m not expecting to see any good ones. Another problem with what the government is doing here is that it excludes the other places where people might find themselves indoors and in close proximity with other people. With half the economy still shuttered, that mostly means shops.

The advice does say you should consider wearing one when you visit, if you can. I’m aware that some people cannot, as a result of disability for example. But plenty of people for whom that’s not an issue have considered the advice and decided they can’t be bothered.

It should be said that there’s been some debate about how much masks protect the wearer from other people (although most experts seem to agree that even a homemade cloth one helps a bit).

However, there’s much less argument about where they come into their own: in shielding others from the wearer. People unknowingly travelling in the same carriage as a coronavirus infected but asymptomatic commuter wearing a mask would enjoy some protection from them, at least after 15 June.

Their fellow shoppers, however, would be out of luck if they were to talk off their face covering having exited the tube and popped into Tesco Metro for a sandwich.

At this point it’s worth remembering that the BMA recommended that people consider wearing masks in places where social distancing is difficult (like supermarkets or any other retail outlet you might care to mention), as far back as April.

But the government’s formula for dealing with sensible advice from outside agencies seems to be “present tin ear”. It wouldn’t surprise me to find the tin corroding from overuse. Half-arsed half-measures after an extended period of foot dragging are, instead, the order of the day.

Ministers are understandably concerned about the economy, which explains rolling the dice with reopening earlier than is arguably sensible.

Trouble is, the economy will take another brutal hit if its unwillingness to listen to people who know what they’re talking about leaves us stuck in the middle of a second wave.

This. Is. Not. Rocket. Science. This is something the rest of the world seems to understand, much of it having come to the same conclusions as the BMA long before its advice penetrated the British government’s shell-like. Plus ca change.

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