Opinion: 'There'll be a second lockdown if we don't start taking face masks seriously'

Masks are one of our greatest weapons in fighting a second wave — so why are the majority of us not taking them seriously?


What if I told you that there was a very simple way to prevent coronavirus from spreading? It's cheap, so easy you can even make it yourself at home, and it means you can go out and about without worrying, as there will be a much lower chance of the disease spreading?

If you haven't guessed, yes, I'm here to talk about masks. Face coverings, homemade cloth masks, bandanas, scarves — whatever you use, it can make a notable difference in the ongoing fight against Covid-19. The virus that we've been battling since the beginning of 2020 has certainly slowed down here in Ireland, but shows no sign of going away completely, and while the country begins to open up and enjoy the summer, we still have to be ever-vigilant.

Ireland's response

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Ireland is a country that is actually revered internationally for our response to Covid-19. In contrast to our neighbours on both sides, Ireland began enforcing restrictions quite early on, reducing our travel vicinity to just a 2 kilometre radius, closing all non-essential businesses, and making hand washing and social distancing a priority.

As a result, as of the beginning of this month, Ireland's rate of Covid-19 is less than three cases per 100,000 people. The UK records around 26 cases per 100,000 people, and the U.S records over 987 cases per 100,000 people.

We are doing well. We've gotten through a tremendously tough time as a country, and now, our job is to keep things moving. We can go out again, see our friends and families again, go shopping, eat in restaurants, and soon, we'll be able to go to the cinema and the pub. All that's being asked of us is to keep up our hand-washing, socially distance, and wear masks as much as possible. Why, when the solution to a healthier future is so easy, can we not stick to the rules?

Enforcement

As of today, the Gardaí can legally enforce wearing a face mask on public transport, and the government advises we wear face coverings in any setting where social distancing is difficult, like in a supermarket or crowded shop. Anyone who fails to comply with a request to wear a mask on public transport can potentially be committed to a six month sentence in jail, or to pay a fine of up to €2,500.

According to various transport companies around Dublin, the compliance rate was quite high this morning on the Luas, bus and DART. But anyone who has been out and about in Dublin city recently will tell you that the anecdotal evidence says otherwise.

I would say that, at most, about 60% of folk in my local supermarket wear face masks. I myself only wear mine about half of the time. People seem to view a mask as an amusing option, something that you might even be embarrassed to be seen in. It makes social interaction a bit more stilted, a bit more awkward, and for us chat-loving Irish, that's difficult.

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So we whip them off, stuff them into our purse, and forget about them — until we see an elderly or infirm person, likely terrified of this still-looming pandemic, making do with their own mask, and we remember why we need to cop on a bit.

Grin and bear it

Wearing a mask isn't fun. It's uncomfortable, and makes your upper lip sweat, and you feel like a bit of an eejit trying to chat with one on. But think about the days not so long ago when a chat wasn't an option. Think of when we would give anything for a face-to-face conversation with someone, anyone. Think of the days spent staring at the same four walls, terrified of what could happen if we chanced leaving.

Not only are we facing a second coming of those dark days, but we're potentially facing something much worse. Imagine fobbing off your mask only to realise it could have been the difference between a relative living and dying. A loved one being locked away to deal with a virus alone, when all we had to do was cover our mouths and noses for a few minutes.

If we all don't bear the embarrassment of hiding the bottom-half of our faces for the foreseeable, we could be facing much worse than a minute's worth of mortification. I, for one, am happy to make the swap.


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