Face covering rule means I’ll just have to avoid shops and public transport

PUBLISHED: 09:21 15 July 2020 | UPDATED: 07:29 16 July 2020

Prime Minister Boris Johnson, wearing a face mask, during a visit to the headquarters of the London Ambulance Service NHS Trust on Monday. James says if he has to wear a mask to visit the shops, he'll vote with his feet and stay away

Prime Minister Boris Johnson, wearing a face mask, during a visit to the headquarters of the London Ambulance Service NHS Trust on Monday. James says if he has to wear a mask to visit the shops, he'll vote with his feet and stay away

Columnist James Marston says he’d rather not visit shops if he has to wear a face covering

As my grandmother would have said; “Masks, whatever next!”

As our reaction to coronavirus develops into what might well turn out, with hindsight, to be an ever-intensifying public-health panic of gargantuan proportions I cannot help thinking the time is coming that it all – with the latest that face masks be worn as a matter of compulsion – will have to surely stop – or at the very least be questioned a little harder.

There is, and this is what worries me the most, so little from the other voices, the experts and scientists and studies who argue against the necessity of the actions we have taken, in the public sphere. It is just a matter of time before the post-corona inquisition begins.

But it hasn’t been all bad has it? At least I’ve been able to get on with the garden and I have to recognise I have been very lucky, so far, and have remained healthy as have those around me.

I shan’t disobey this mask law but I do admit I question it. And I’m afraid I shall also avoid shops and public transport for the foreseeable future as I don’t like the feeling of being muzzled and if the lockdown has taught me anything it is that I don’t need half the things I thought I did. I need time with people far more than stuff.

I don’t think I’m alone either.

I’d rather not be compelled to wear a mask and I’d rather make my own decisions and take my own health risks but the argument for collective responsibility is a strong one and, in this climate, it is clearly winning at the moment.

But is it me or does it all seem a bit illogical?

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Masks aren’t compulsory in pubs, cafés or restaurants or churches – at least not yet – and that seems a little odd as in those places people spend longer periods of time with people around them than they do in shops.

And why now anyway?

I can’t work it all out – which is why we pay others to do so on our behalf I suppose.

On the plus side I have been supporting the economy with a visit to a pub – table service and most comfortable, and a restaurant in Blakeney where, after my delicious lunch, I felt rather sorry for the staff trying to get used to it all.

Which brings me to my point. The rights and wrongs of lockdown, the moments of anger and acceptance, the fors and againsts for masks, the huge disruption to all our lives, will be a subject for future historians to debate in the decades to come.

I went to church on Sunday and an elderly parishioner said to me: “People have been so kind, and more thoughtful than I’ve known in many years. Some good might come out of all of this, at least I hope so.”

She was right to hold that hope I think, because despite our anger and fears, despite some of the aspects of the last few weeks we might question, at the root of it all has been concern for our fellow man. We have done together the most extraordinary things counter to all our instincts as British people and as humans in the name of looking after our neighbour.

We have denied ourselves much in order to care for those we don’t even know and will never meet. We have expanded once again the concept of who our neighbour actually is.

This is ultimately a period we can look back on with surprise and perhaps pride that we are less selfish than we supposed, and perhaps more concerned with looking after others and the vulnerable than we realised. Let’s hope so anyway.

Fear and anxiety, usually dissipates as quickly as it emerges – we move on in the end. Today’s drama will be tomorrow’s anecdote and it will be a story of hope and kindness at its heart.

What do you think? Are you concerned about a law making us wear masks? Do you have hope for the future? Have you been surprised at our collective unselfishness? Write to James at

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