Wednesday, April 24, 2024
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Ditch the muzzle!


FACE nappy. Muzzle. Mask.  Whatever you choose to call them, face coverings are a sign of compliance, allowing governments to gauge levels of public obedience to increasingly ridiculous Covid rules.  

Thus, the refusal of some to wear them has itself become a potent symbol of rebellion, especially by those who eschew the safety net of the lanyard. Abused in the Twittersphere as selfish granny-killers,  those who refuse to wear masks are now apparently racist too. 

This comes despite the fact that any benefit in donning a dehumanising flimsy piece of rag as protection against Covid was dismissed by the World Health Organisation in 2020.   

In April of that year, Britain’s deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van Tam stood at his podium to tell us that wearing face masks was ‘not recommended.’ 

Now, after 115 million vaccines against Covid-19 have been issued, masks are once again mandatory in England following the discovery of a new strain – Omicron – despite the doctor who discovered the variant declaring it ‘extremely mild.’ 

Nevertheless, the Government has been quick to implement mandatory mask wearing once more. Seasoned observers may surmise that ministers saw their grip of fear loosening and have pounced on Omicron as an excuse to re-tighten the leash.  

Masks are a measurement of how cowed the population remains. Masks are better than any manipulated YouGov poll or Jeremy Vine phone-in. So what can be done? Who will obey, who will disobey and who can be swayed? 

For the partisan tribal mask wearer, the issue is non-negotiable. Even if they believe the mask is a nonsense, their political allegiance, and identification of non-mask-wearing as a symbol of Right-wing extremism, will not permit them to discard the rag. 

This group finds its antithesis in the non-mask wearer. Although I am sure you will find them in all political shades, I’d put my money on very few in this group having ever uttered the words ‘check your privilege’.  

Some of them are long-term refuseniks from back in the day when both US government health adviser Dr Anthony Fauci and the WHO pooh-poohed the suggestion that masks could halt virus transmission.  Others are more recent converts.  

They have witnessed world leaders at G7 and COP26, bigwigs at the Euros and celebs at the Met Gala, sans mask and living the old normal, whilst the plebs who serve them mill around resembling contestants at a Hannibal Lecter lookalike competition. 

The catalyst is unimportant. The decision to remove the mask is all that matters. We don’t care how you get here, just get here if you can. 

Between these two groups you can find three types of mask wearers. Firstly, those who believe the mask provides protection from a deadly virus. The mask comforts them.  

Those fully responsive to Project Fear see the Covid Bogeyman everywhere.  Naked faces are the greatest threat to humanity and the mask is their silver bullet, their clove of garlic. The announcement of each new variant strikes fear into their hearts as they wail about how it would all be over ‘if only everybody stuck to the rules.’ Non-compliant Florida? Texas? Sweden? They shake their heads and walk away, mumbling ‘Covidiot’. 

The second group consists of those who neither know nor care whether masks are an effective barrier against the virus, but they will follow orders and will continue to wear them until an authority figure tells them otherwise. Phrases which may help you identify this group include: ‘Are you a doctor?’ ‘We’re all in this together’, and ‘Did you watch the SAGE update last night?’ 

Finally, we have The Reluctant Mask Wearer. For sceptics, this group is key. The hundreds of thousands who know it is a nonsense, who hate the masks but keep going along with the theatre.  

These individuals wear the mask under duress. They despise it, but fear opprobrium if they remove it. They are easy to spot. A faint air of embarrassment when they catch the eye of the unmasked. When exiting the Tube, they pull the mask from their face shouting, ‘this bloody thing!’  

Some wear it under their chin, breathing in that sweet, sweet air, but ready to pull it into place at the first disapproving look. Others dangle the mask from one ear, dipping their toe in the shallow waters of rebellion.  

Infuriated by nonsensical rules – masks to walk to the restaurant toilet, crowded sporting events but pared-down school sports day – they question the logic, but are surrounded by family, friends and co-workers hermetically sealed into their masks.   

Peer pressure traps them in the cult. They need new peers. They need an example and encouragement. We need them and they need us. 

Whatever the Covid zealots may believe, it takes a strong character, and a fair dose of courage, to venture out with a naked face. It means going against the prevailing view, swimming against the tide, the only maskless person at the supermarket or on the bus.  

It is daunting, initially. But here’s the thing. As scary as it may be to lose the mask when all about you are keeping theirs, in doing so you will experience a feeling of overwhelming empowerment.  

Not a phony empowerment. Not an ‘I made a porn video and it’s so empowering’ or ‘I stopped shaving my armpits and it’s so empowering’, but a euphoric feeling of liberation. You followed your gut. You did not do what was easy you did what was right. 

Be the change you want to see. 

Lead by example. 

Ditch the muzzle. 

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Mary McGreechin
Mary McGreechin
Mary McGreechin is a medical historian and researcher from Glasgow.

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