The Masked Bawl

Death and the Masks – Source: James Ensor on

Never apologize. Never explain. Just get the thing done, and let them howl.”

(Canadian politician, Agnes Macphail, 1890 – 1954)

Treading water

When sailing on tempestuous seas, a small horseshoe shaped ring of polyethylene will not stop you getting wet; it will not stop you inhaling salt or spray; it will not stop the unsettling assault on equilibrium, but it might, if you fell overboard, just keep you afloat long enough for a rescue team to reach you. The polyethylene life jacket embracing your torso might just save your life.

Vaccines, masks, indoor ventilation and social distancing are all parts of a life-saving tool kit designed to protect against coronavirus infection. When all the tools of the kit are used together, the kit becomes the life jacket that will help us stay afloat and see us through the worst of the pandemic.

Very visible forces

The level of pitiful remonstrations, whingeing and cantankerous comments from certain members of Parliament is laughable. The mention of masks in the House of Commons is anathema to a hard core of libertarian back bench Tory MPs. The month of November this year witnessed yet more of the same. If anything, the tantrum throwing that started in 2020 has become noisier and even more eccentric.

In July 2020, Tory MP Desmond Swayne, treated the nation to a grandiose display of vaudevillian theatre in the House of Commons. He opined that mask wearing restricted his liberty, remarking it was a “monstrous imposition”, an obstacle that would grossly compromise his shopping habits. This attitude has not changed, unfortunately.

Swayne served as Major in the Royal Mercian and Lancastrian Yeomanry (Territorial Army) in Iraq in 2003. The regiment was involved in armoured replacement, that is, it provided auxiliary support crews (reinforcement and protection). It is fair to suggest that during the conflict Swayne was at some risk from enemy fire.

For a man who could, in the past, have potentially been deployed anywhere in the world on military duty to object to wearing a mask, stretches credulity to its limit. It is difficult to reconcile the Swayne that entered a war zone with the Swayne currently engaged in soft-textile hostilities. (In his defence he has abided by the rules in the past, despite the protestations.) Why Swayne is affronted by what could be described as exercising a civilian duty of care is bizarre. But he is sticking to his guns.

Fellow Christian, Tory MP and deputy chair of the Covid Recovery Group, Steve Baker, is also an outspoken critic of mask wearing. Baker took the whole issue of rejecting tighter Covid rules to a different level on Tuesday, November 30th. He proselytised in biblical language:

 “Where are we going as a society and as a civilization? Where will be our redemption and our salvation? How will we provide that hope for our future? … This is a fundamental choice between heading towards heaven and heading towards hell”.

Tory MP and Chairman of the influential 1922 Committee, Graham Brady, stated the Covid rules have echoes of the “Salem witch trials”, when he spoke about schoolchildren with suspected cases of coronavirus.

In September 2020 Brady and other Tory MPs were set to rebel against the renewal of Prime Ministerial emergency powers, asserting that lockdowns and mask wearing were draconian measures. Yes, they are draconian measures, but they have proved highly successful across the world in preventing large outbreaks of diseases such as leprosy, smallpox, tuberculosis.

Swayne insisted Parliament should be consulted on future decisions made by the executive on how best to control the pandemic. The non-pharmaceutical interventions applied up to that point, he concluded, were too harsh. He said, “the democratic legitimate right to ask you the counter case and vote upon it in parliament” is an important part of the democratic process.

One step forward, two steps back

A week or two in the ‘life’ of a virus is a very long time and a golden opportunity for it to wreak havoc by causing a surge in infections; it is enough time for it to inflict serious damage on all aspects of society. It is wise to implement a pre-emptive strategy to stop the country from becoming saturated with disease. Time is of the essence. Not proceeding swiftly can cost thousands of lives. Consulting parliament at every turn would hobble efforts to employ safety procedures at speed.

On Tuesday 14 July 2020 Johnson announced that mask wearing would be required in all shops but mask wearing was not actually enforced until the 24 July – a completely pointless gap of ten days.

In March this year Johnson responded belatedly to the burgeoning number of infections in India caused by what was later to become known as the Delta variant of coronavirus. Despite calls from MPs for incoming flights from India to be suspended, Johnson did not recognise the urgent need for defensive action. He appeared distracted by his own impending plans to travel from UK to India to meet Prime Minster, Narendra Modi. The opportunity of securing a post Brexit trade deal with India took precedence over shielding the UK from coronavirus. At this time, the UK had suspended all incoming flights from Pakistan and Bangladesh, but because direct flights from India were still admitted, the Delta variant inevitably crossed continents and seeded in UK. Johnson exhibited a colossal error of judgement by not taking the situation seriously.

In 2020, Iain Duncan Smith wrote on Twitter:

The PM’s announcement of a 2nd Lockdown is a body blow to the British people. Just as the economy was picking up, even giving cause for optimism, we’re now to impersonate the Grand Old Duke of York, giving in to the scientific advisers & marching England back into another lockdown.

Despite his Herculean efforts to be Churchillian, Johnson has been neither strong enough to stand up to his disgruntled backbenchers nor able to demonstrate skilled leadership. He has shown he is incapable of following his own directives either through neglect or indifference. He has been seen at parties, dinners, on trains and, very recently, in a hospital of all places, not wearing a mask. Any person visiting a hospital should not need prompting into putting on a mask – the building is full of sick patients.

No safety in numbers

Densely packed venues are ideal for igniting a ‘super spreader event’. In a densely packed environment people are more likely to be exposed to virus particles because each person is sharing air space with close contacts, namely those nearest them. In a dynamic crowd containing tens or hundreds of people, it can take only two or three infected individuals to unwittingly spread the coronavirus to a substantial number as they intermingle. This multiplies the number of future infections. Newly infected individuals will, in turn, go on to infect close contacts such as friends and family in the days that follow.

Physicist, Christian Kähler believes that if a person behaves anti-socially by not maintaining social distancing or not wearing a mask is likely to increase transmission. Adopting the simple act of wearing a mask effectively reduces the chance of transmission.

Compare dissolving five grams of salt into a glass containing 500ml of water. When the salt is deposited into the glass it can be seen sinking to the bottom. Without applying physical agitation such as stirring the water, the salt will nonetheless start to dissolve and diffuse of its own accord. The salt and water molecules will interact naturally if left undisturbed, which is why when someone later drinks the water it will taste salty. The dissolved salt does not remain at the bottom of the glass – it “spreads” through the solution. Gas clouds containing coronavirus particles operate in a similar way.

Prevention is better than cure

In a press briefing on November 28, Johnson sounded committed to the task of preventing the spread of disease saying, “Let’s not give this virus a second chance”. But since then he has stated that there is no need to tighten Covid rules on mask wearing, so only partial restrictions were imposed. So, the people of the UK are, yet again, left baffled by the logic. Johnson tweeted on November 30:

 “The measures taking effect today are proportionate and responsible and will buy us time in the face of this new variant. Vaccines and boosters remain our best line of defence, so it is more important than ever that people come forward when eligible to get boosted.”

Seeking to understand the method behind the government’s madness leaves the minds of many in the indeterminate state of limbo. Wherein lies the reasoning? There is no magic force field the virus cannot penetrate. If it can spread in a shop it can spread in a school but only one of these community spaces is subject to restrictions. It makes no sense.

Following discussions in the House of Commons on Tuesday, MPs voted heavily in support of mandated mask wearing in shops and on public transport by 434 votes to 24. There have been calls from across the House of Commons – indeed, across the wider public – to extend the mask wearing directive to include classrooms, cinemas, theatres and other public spaces where large groups gather.

The coronavirus has been given too many chances already, which is why we in UK have seen over 145,000 deaths from infection, the highest death toll in Western Europe. According to Cancer Research, more people die from coronavirus in the UK every day than from breast, prostate and bowel cancer combined. The government’s indecisiveness and incompetence has resulted in many unnecessary deaths; mismanagement has allowed the virus to flourish.

Arena of the Absurd

Mask wearing is not a step towards authoritarianism, as some Tory MPs would have us believe. At the same time, the very same Tory MPs want to severely curtail the Human Rights Act by limiting freedom of speech and the right to peaceful protest is a very definite step towards authoritarianism.  If the anti-maskers, anti-vaxxers and conspiracy theorists directed their energies towards opposing Priti Patel’s Policing Bill – a genuine threat to democracy – the UK would almost certainly be in a better place and not heading towards becoming a police state.