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JANET STREET PORTER: Masks were useless, now they are mandatory

If there is one sentence I have had enough of (spoken in a serious tone by Boris and Co) it is ‘scientific advice’ and ‘medical advice’ from the partner-in-crime.

So far, citizens have been guinea pigs for the prime minister’s steep learning curve since Covid-19 entered our lives.

And we know from bitter experience that those two slogan phrases written by a government member mean very little.

Every week, our leaders unveil a new major action plan to pretend to be on top of the economic and social disaster that is the coronavirus, as the sound of experts telling us that there will undoubtedly be a second wave of infections continues to grow.

So, what to do to try to stop the inevitable next winter? The last beep is that from Friday next week (why not before?) We have to wear face masks when entering a store or get heavy fines.

Boris Johnson is talking to a paramedic while visiting the London Ambulance Service NHS Trust headquarters this Monday

Boris Johnson is talking to a paramedic while visiting the London Ambulance Service NHS Trust headquarters this Monday

Does it make any difference? Ministers claim that “medical advice” has advised that it is time to limit our personal freedom on behalf of public duty.

I feel sorry for the highly educated members of the medical world and the scientific community because it seems to me that politicians just go through their research and use the pieces that suit them and ignore those who don’t, depending on how they do in the opinion polls.

Is that cynical? Experts were divided on how helpful face masks were and whether the British would adopt them, given our reluctance to cover our faces (or indeed cover our bodies if the sun manages to turn 18 degrees).

According to YouGov, in the UK only 36% of us wear them (usually older and more fragile) compared to 86% in Spain, 83% in Italy and 73% in the US.

Face masks are just the last chapter in the confusion that typifies the UK’s slow response to a deadly disease.

Masks are already mandatory in public transport. Pictured: two passengers in a London bus wearing protective linings late last week

Masks are already mandatory in public transport. Pictured: two passengers in a London bus wearing protective linings late last week

Masks are already mandatory in public transport. Pictured: two passengers in a London bus wearing protective linings late last week

Rather than treating the public as intelligent people and not as children who need to learn a new lesson, our politicians have mismanaged every phase of the pandemic by promising and underpowering.

From quarantines that took place (and were subsequently canceled) to mysterious ‘airlifts’ to warehouse hospitals that treated only a few people, to huge test centers in the wrong places to a track-and-trace app to be thrown out. All this does not exactly inspire confidence in our decision-makers.

I never thought wearing a face mask would be better at keeping a potentially fatal disease on its way than simply staying away from other people, especially those who are coughing or sneezing.

On an airplane, for example – you’ll have to take off your mask to drink and eat, and there’s a good chance of breathing in someone else’s stale air and their germs.

At the end of the day, it’s up to adults to make their own lifestyle choices, and the government can’t impose endless dictations that instruct us to wipe our buttocks, exercise every day, and wear a face mask when buying a bottle of wine or toilet rolls.

Retailers are asked to advise customers to wear masks, but their personnel are not expected to comply with the law. Pictured: Members of the public wear face masks late last week while shopping in Princess Street, Edinburgh

Retailers are asked to advise customers to wear masks, but their personnel are not expected to comply with the law. Pictured: Members of the public wear face masks late last week while shopping in Princess Street, Edinburgh

Retailers are asked to advise customers to wear masks, but their personnel are not expected to comply with the law. Pictured: Members of the public wear face masks late last week while shopping in Princess Street, Edinburgh

On April 7, SAGE (the group of scientific experts consulting the government) announced that “wearing masks would have minimal effect.” They changed their minds two weeks later. On May 11, the government finally advised to wear face covering, but their advice was confusing and left it to us.

Chris Whitty, the Chief Medical Officer, originally said that wearing a mask if you were not infected reduced the risk of contracting the virus “almost not at all.”

The World Health Organization initially said that masks should be worn by medical personnel for people with symptoms and their caregivers.

They said the virus spread through tiny droplets released when coughing or sneezing and touching contaminated surfaces, and washing hands was just as effective. So what has changed?

An open letter from more than 200 scientists in 32 countries challenged WHO and accused them of underestimating the spread of the virus.

These scientists said that tiny particles, produced when infected people talk or simply exhale, are emitted into the air and can travel much further than just the drop produced by coughing or sneezing.

Yet the government dragged its feet over what to do. After a campaign by the Mayor of London, face masks were made mandatory on public transport from 11 June. Nicola Sturgeon ordered them a week ago in stores in Scotland.

Michael Gove was without a mask in Westminster's Pret a Manger this morning as he said it should be left to people to decide if they should wear one

Michael Gove was without a mask in Westminster's Pret a Manger this morning as he said it should be left to people to decide if they should wear one

His cabinet colleague Liz Truss wore a mask in the same Pret this morning as the contrast in approach was uncovered at the top of government

His cabinet colleague Liz Truss wore a mask in the same Pret this morning as the contrast in approach was uncovered at the top of government

Michael Gove was without a mask in Westminster’s Pret a Manger because he said it should be left to people to decide if they should wear one

Now the audience was really confused. Rules and regulations surrounding Covid are different in Wales, England and Scotland – God help you if you plan a trip to Barry Island or Edinburgh for your summer break.

Why should we wear masks, since the evidence about their effectiveness is so contradictory?

It’s not that our vain politicians have set a good example – there were no photos of Boris Johnson wearing a face mask for a photo call last Friday (after journalists pointed it out), and just one of Health Secretary Matt Hancock.

Two days earlier, Chancellor Dishi Rishi was photographed as a waiter after his ‘Dine out for a tenner’ summer budget was revealed in Westminster. Rishi wanted to maximize his potential as a boisterous prime minister while waiting and chose not to wear a mask while serving noodles in Wagamama.

The greatest narcissist in power, President Trump, said he would never wear a mask – until this week, when he wore a special version complete with the presidential badge.

Last Sunday, Cabinet Minister Michael Gove didn’t seem to think that wearing masks should be mandatory because he said he trusted “people’s common sense” and that they were “basic good manners.” Given the scenes outside the bars in Soho and in the city centers of Liverpool and Newcastle when the pubs reopened, I’d say ‘common sense’ means very little to a generation that is unlikely to catch the virus. They just want to have fun, and who can blame them?

Now Boris Johnson has performed one of his classic moves, a complete U turn. The man who believed in personal freedom now imposes a face mask mandate on all stores, complete with a £ 100 fine for non-compliance.

Shoppers who don't follow the rules risk fines of £ 100 under plans to stop a second wave of coronavirus. Pictured: Prime Minister Boris Johnson wearing a face mask while campaigning in his constituency of Uxbridge

Shoppers who don't follow the rules risk fines of £ 100 under plans to stop a second wave of coronavirus. Pictured: Prime Minister Boris Johnson wearing a face mask while campaigning in his constituency of Uxbridge

Shoppers who don’t follow the rules risk fines of £ 100 under plans to stop a second wave of coronavirus. Pictured: Prime Minister Boris Johnson wearing a face mask while campaigning in his constituency of Uxbridge

Sorry, Boris, it will never work. Older people are willing to wear masks anyway, but it’s ridiculous to put shop staff (who already work in confined spaces, more at risk than the rest of us looking for new jeans) to check out the public, and a spokesperson for JD Sports told the BBC today that official advice regarding the execution of the decision was “very confused.”

The Waterstones boss said “it’s not fair” about the staff and the unions are already complaining.

The police, whose job is to protect us from offenders, say they cannot arrest people on private property and that they are at least too busy dealing with more serious crimes.

Should retailers who are struggling to cough up and offer free face masks to customers? Why should we wear them in a shop’s ‘confined space’ and not in a bar or restaurant? Why do they have to be worn while walking through a huge shopping center?

Cult novel The Dice Man talks about a psychiatrist who makes every decision based on the roll of a dice. Written in 1971, millions of copies have been sold worldwide. I suggest Boris read it. It could hardly make his weekly strategy changes more nonsensical.

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