by Colin Campbell
NICOLA Sturgeon’s announcement last Thursday that face masks for shoppers will be compulsory from next week begs the question – why now?
Apparently any form of face covering will do, from a balaclava to a handkerchief to a pair of underpants secured around your face with a safety pin.
These things are not comfortable to wear, as a friend who works in an Inverness care home told me. But given what NHS and care staff have had to go through in recent months, this is no time for unnecessary grumbling.
Where there is room for complaint, however, is in the fact that the face mask imposition looks mistimed, misguided and nonsensical.
The vast majority of people have been in busy supermarkets for the past three months without face masks.
And now, when there have been no reported new infections for the past week in the Highlands, we’re ordered to start wearing them.
The apparent justification for this diktat is that with non-essential shops being allowed to reopen, more people moving around means more risk.
But stores like Primark enforce rigorous restrictions on the number of people allowed in at any one time. Less busy outlets do the same. And customer numbers are in any case well below what they were before this situation began.
And even if there was an early return to normal levels of trade, shops which have reopened still wouldn’t be as busy as the supermarkets have been for the past three months.
Information on the way the virus spreads is still emerging. But even allowing for that, the face mask requirement is cluelessly mistimed. Given some of the other draconian restrictions we’ve seen already – like not being allowed to sit on a bench on a wide open park – if it was deemed to serve any genuine purpose face masks in shops should have been made compulsory weeks ago.
But worst of all, the new startling, entirely alien spectacle of people wearing face masks en masse all around is liable to bring that epidemic of anxiety and tension which gripped the country in April and May flooding back.
It will be unnerving and unsettling. And oft-expressed concerns about “mental health” arise again. People have had to cope with a lot in recent months, and many have suffered quite badly. No, we must not become complacent and assume it’s all over. But do we really want people needlessly burdened by a fresh outbreak of tension, anxiety and fear?
Because that’s what likely to happen as a result of everyone walking around wearing these things.
When the virus risk was at its height the vast majority of people didn’t wear them. Now, when the statistics show infection rates in the Highlands have fallen to negligible, almost non-existent levels, we’re ordered to start wearing face masks.
That makes about as much sense as wrapping a pair of underpants around your head, and fixing them in place with a safety pin.