Monday, May 27, 2024
HomeCOVID-19The science behind masks is as flimsy as my see-through scarf

The science behind masks is as flimsy as my see-through scarf


WHO would have thought that a flimsy piece of fabric would shatter this life-long Conservative woman’s confidence in a Conservative government?

The fabric in question is a scarf I wear to stop the draught going down my neck while I’m cycling to town. It’s thin and loosely-woven, so much so that if I wrap it around the lower part of my face, you can see my mouth and teeth.

Yet somehow, under the current Covid diktat, if I went into a shop like that, I would be perfectly within the law. But if I left my scarf where it usually sits, I would be breaking the law.

Full disclosure: I have done and will continue to do the latter. Not because I enjoy breaking the law, or putting others or myself in danger; I’m actually such a goody two-shoes in all other aspects of life that you’d probably throw up if you met me – and it wouldn’t be because I’d given you Covid; and I’m the annoying colleague that spots, and calls out, a trip hazard, say, at 1,000 paces.

But I have seen nothing to make me believe that covering my mouth and nose with anything from my manky, infrequently-washed cycling scarf to a pristine disposable face mask will do anything to keep others, or myself, from harm.

It’s not that I haven’t tried. I read, alongside all the advice on the health risks of reusable masks, the World Health Organisation’s own ‘Technical Guidance’, as updated on June 5. It lists five ‘potential benefits’ of face coverings, only one of which is to do with health, but 11 ‘potential harms’, chief of which is the risk of ‘self-contamination’ from touching the face while adjusting the mask.

‘I’m sure I heard the WHO was pro-mask, but I must have been wrong,’ I thought. Then, with a degree of bemusement, I got to the bit where the guidance says, in effect, ‘Yep, we know masks are probably a bit rubbish, but we’ll recommend them anyway.’  

(I wondered if the WHO had turned pro-mask as a way of maintaining credibility with, or funding from, countries that had already adopted masks. But, thanks to journalist Deborah Cohen’s piece for BBC Newsnight, I learned the change was down to ‘political lobbying’.)

In the US, it looked like the American Medical Association was advocating masks on the grounds that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was recommending them, while the CDC was saying masks were great, and the proof of that was that the AMA was supporting them.

And so to the late adopter that was good old Blighty. If the UK Government/Public Health England/the NHS/SAGE has published its/their reasons for making face coverings compulsory, I have yet to find them (after goodness knows how many hours of looking). 

A nifty pattern for turning a T-shirt into a mask? Yes. A reason why I should chop up said perfectly good T-shirt? Er, no.

I did actually draft this piece for TCW a few weeks ago, but decided against sending it because, well, who cares what I think? (Clearly not the Government I voted for.)


However, after avoiding public transport, it looks as if I have to use the train tomorrow, and the banner warning about face coverings has got me so wound up that I have to get my anger off my chest.

I don’t object to wearing ridiculous things in public (as is obvious to anyone who’s seen pictures of me from the 1980s), I just object to wearing them for no reason.

‘But stopping Covid’s a good reason,’ pro-maskers argue. Well, this is what the Government itself says about them: ‘The best available scientific evidence is that, when used correctly, wearing a face covering may reduce the spread of coronavirus droplets in certain circumstances, helping to protect others.’

Not exactly a ringing endorsement. 

And Matt Plank-Cock (sorry, Hancock), when announcing face coverings were being made mandatory in shops, told us that one reason was ‘to minimise the risk as we return more to normality. In recent weeks, we have reopened retail and footfall is rising. We want to give people more confidence to shop safely, and enhance protections for those who work in shops. Both of these can be done by the use of face coverings’.

(Note he says ‘enhance’, not ‘guarantee’, or even ‘make it likely’. And note, too, how customer ‘confidence’ is put ahead of staff ‘protections’).

Basically, the Government has admitted, though not in so many words, that it believes this face-covering business is little more than a way of demonstrating that Something Is Being Done about Covid.

The only conclusion I can come to is that the Conservative government I voted so excitedly for just nine months ago has morphed into a Labour one, or has at least adopted the Labour mantra of ‘who cares if it works, so long as it looks good’.

I wonder what Mrs T, Britain’s first (and so far only, I think?) scientist Prime Minister, would have made of this whole face coverings thing. I won’t presume to know, as I never had the honour of meeting her (although – humblebrag klaxon – I did visit Downing Street while she was in office).

However, I suspect that she would have read the actual science, and, if it failed to convince her, she wouldn’t have been afraid to act independently of other leaders, and argue pretty forcefully why mandatory masking was not the way forward.

I am so angry with the Government, not for trying to force me to cover my mouth and nose in public, but for trying to force me to do it when there’s so little science to back it up, and it may do more harm than good. (Mind you, isn’t it supposed to be Conservatives that believe in freedom of choice? Or did I imagine that bit?)

I’m not against everything the Government has done. I wish we had been more like Sweden, but I respected – and complied with – the lockdown, and my world has smelled of nothing but hand sanitiser since midway through February (when I had to persuade a nurse, in a healthcare setting, that it was perhaps not wise for us to share the same pen). I can even go along with the whole social distancing thing.

Which gives me an idea for a good use for a T-shirt. Instead of chopping it up to make a mask, I’ll wear it for cycling. A few trips to town and it’ll be so rank no one will be prepared to come within a mile of me, let alone a Magic Metre. Not quite as noticeable (from a distance, anyway) as a mask, but far more effective.

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The Red Wall Rebel
The Red Wall Rebel
The Red Wall Rebel is an ordinary Lancastrian who has worked in minor admin in the public and private sector. She celebrated her 18th birthday on the day of a General Election – when, of course, she voted for a Thatcher government.

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