FOR ages I’d been walking into supermarkets without wearing a mask. Staff had never asked me to wear one and allowed me to go about my business.
That all changed the other week on my birthday, despite there having been no Covid outbreaks at any of the shops I have visited that I am aware of, and no evidence that I was a threat to the welfare of their employees.
I had driven with my girlfriend to a supermarket to buy some items she needed – literally the most exciting thing many of us can do right now, so a birthday treat! But the guards outside the store wrecked that by telling us that we could not go in together. I controlled my temper and waited outside for my girlfriend while she shopped.
In the evening, we went to another supermarket closer to home to buy some drinks to celebrate my birthday, and this experience was worse. The bouncer asked why I was not wearing a face covering. I got out my inhaler and explained I could not wear a mask because I am asthmatic. He then demanded written proof – as if an inhaler was not sufficient evidence.
I stormed off, angry at being accused of being a liar. Adding insult to injury, he chased after me like some bully in a playground, still saying that I needed written proof. Only when I displayed my badge that said I am exempt did he back off and later, as we left the shop, he tried to be nice to us. To give him his due he has made an effort to be civil whenever we have passed him ever since.
My experience is far from unique. The other day, Reclaim Party leader and actor Laurence Fox admitted that face coverings cause him anxiety.
But instead of eliciting sympathy and understanding, his tweet brought down on him the most appalling, aggressive and unwarranted criticism.
Tory MP Simon Hoare tweeted: ‘I hadn’t realised that being a first class, ocean going, chateau bottled, nuclear powered pr*ck was an exemption from wearing a mask. What a selfish loathsome tool this man is.’ [Our asterisk]
Another critic said: ‘Not sure at all why you are taking this stance Laurence but I think it’s disappointing. Let’s all get with the programme and not undermine the best efforts of the govs and our people for doing the right thing. Try sending the right message out.’
However Fox is not alone. I have read many tweets from people who are exempt because of the anxiety masks causes them. They have criticised supermarkets for making their anxiety worse than it already was.
One of the worst elements of this is the lack of honesty about the status of scientific evidence for the effectiveness of masks and the lack of clarity following first the WHO’s and then the government’s U-turn on masks last summer.
This more than anything has allowed a ‘Covid marshal’ mentality to burgeon amongst some supermarket staff and security guards, encouraging the development of an unpleasant power complex based on a belief that they can and must take the law into their own hands.
Evidently for these employees it is not enough that the Government’s website clearly says: ‘If you have an age, health or disability reason for not wearing a face covering:
· You do not routinely need to show any written evidence of this.
· You do not need to show an exemption card.’
(There are also the following exemptions:
· children under the age of 11
· people who cannot put on, wear or remove a face covering because of a physical or mental illness or impairment, or disability
· where putting on, wearing or removing a face covering will cause you severe distress
· if you are speaking to or providing assistance to someone who relies on lip reading, clear sound or facial expressions to communicate
· to avoid harm or injury, or the risk of harm or injury, to yourself or others ‒ including if it would negatively impact on your ability to exercise or participate in a strenuous activity
· police officers and other emergency workers, given that this may interfere with their ability to serve the public.
The guidelines add: ‘Please be mindful and respectful of such circumstances. Some people are less able to wear face coverings, and the reasons for this may not be visible to others.’)
Supermarket staff who believe they have the power to demand proof from their customers not only misinterpret the law but also open themselves to the risk of being sued by the very customers who have kept them in paid jobs throughout the lockdown and their companies in business. According to Alex Belfield of The Voice of Reason people who have been discriminated against in shops for not wearing a face mask are entitled to up to £7,000 in compensation
So isn’t it high time the government admitted ‘the science’ behind face coverings remains controversial?
Take the DANMASK-19, the first trial of surgical mask use during Covid-19, which was published last autumn, described heroically by some of its authors as inconclusive rather than negative. This trial was simply not able to assess the claim ‘My mask protects you, not me.’
The latest mask study, published in the Lancet last week and reported on Lockdown Sceptics here, failed to find conclusive evidence for the efficacy of face coverings.
As Lockdown Sceptics points out, it’s worth recalling why masks don’t work: ‘Masks are poor at preventing transmission because of the high risk of contamination and because they are often made of cloth (which has poor filtration properties) and not properly fitted. They can prevent some droplets from escaping but not aerosols, so it does not take long for the air in a poorly ventilated space to reach a dangerous viral load if infected persons are present, regardless of any face coverings.’
The Lancet study does nothing to change that underlying problem.
The truth is that masks do more to engender more irrational fear than to protect from disease. In the absence of evidence either of mask efficacy or staff vulnerability, wouldn’t supermarkets be wiser to step back from this type of intrusive policing and leave mask wearing to the customer’s discretion?