Face masks can help save lives; now MPs must act – Neil McNicholas

A RECENT report described the policy decision-making of the Government in the early stages of the Covid pandemic “as one of the most important public health failures” that this country has ever experienced – and yet here they go again dithering on the side of popularity rather than public safety.

The wearing of face masks continues to divide political and public opinion.

The “logic” has been to postpone putting any so-called Plan B measures in place until they become absolutely necessary.

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Surely implementing those measures now is the obvious way of hopefully preventing an even worse situation? And while the Government continues to dither, how many lives are being put at risk and how many are being lost to the virus?

The wearing of face masks continues to divide political and public opinion.

Even as “the powers that be” try to persuade people to be vaccinated, one 
of the simplest precautionary measures we can all take, and should have 
been taking all along, against the risk 
of catching Covid is to wear a face 
mask.

Why is it such an onerous thing to do that so many people absolutely refuse to do it?

Any barrier against the virus is surely better than no barrier at all and the cost of a mask is a lot less than the cost to the NHS or the cost of a funeral.

In the early stages of the pandemic, there was no effort on the part of the Prime Minister or his medical and scientific experts to persuade people to wear face masks – indeed, quite the opposite, the impression being given that masks were ineffective in providing protection.

Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak stand accused of setting a poor exmaple on the wearing of face masks.

Surely common sense would suggest that, as I have just said, any barrier has to be better than no barrier when it comes to blocking anything airborne that we might be in danger of breathing in.

And it seemed ludicrous to me to 
claim that wearing a face mask only stopped you breathing the virus out but offered no protection against breathing it in.

Even if that were true, then surely the more people who were wearing masks, the fewer viruses there would be in the air for others to breathe in? (Many 
people in Asian cities wear masks as a matter of course against traffic fumes, 
so it would seem they do provide a barrier).

In April of last year I finally decided (an insignificant individual though I might be) to email the Government’s chief medical advisor, Professor Chris Whitty, to share with him my personal experience with face masks.

Back in 1976, when I was a Jesuit novice in the United States, as part of our pastoral experiences I was involved in social services supporting families attending a cancer research centre in Seattle where (at that time) the process of bone marrow transplantation was being pioneered.

Once patients had had their
immune system suppressed, the risk 
of infection was extremely high and 
could be fatal, and so they were in 
special rooms with outward-flowing filtered air condition systems so that no air from outside the room could reach them.

Even then anyone entering the room was required to wear a face mask because it was felt that it provided an additional barrier against any risk of infecting the patient.

I received no acknowledgement and no reply from Prof Whitty or even one of his minions. So much for trying.

It could also be argued that a surgical team wears face masks to prevent any infection passing from them to the patient, not the other way round.

Fair enough. But as long as face masks are seen to provide a barrier of any sort, surely we are better wearing them than not – even outdoors where we have no idea about who last breathed out the air that we are breathing in?

In many countries – especially in Europe – wearing face masks has been mandatory throughout the pandemic with on-the-spot fines for those breaching what is the law.

But of course that isn’t the “British way”, is it?

We have just been subjected to Yarm’s annual fair where no one was wearing face masks and in an area with one of the country’s highest infection rates. Who thought that was a good idea?

And so the rates will continue to 
climb until, as a nation, we start 
showing more regard for one another’s wellbeing and less for “self”, and “government” stops being a popularity contest.

Father Neil McNicholas is a 
parish priest in Yarm.

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