Column: We all need to get used to life behind a face mask

Maybe the simplest of steps could lead to the biggest stride forward yet ...

I’ve worn a face mask only twice during lockdown, and the change in my mindset has been interesting.

The first came at my GP’s surgery where they were, quite rightly, mandatory.

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The mask was one of those fiddly tie-it-behind your-head affairs, and for someone not used to wearing one, it felt weird, and a bit uncomfy as I fretted over whether it was on properly.

Fast forward two months, on Sunday afternoon I found myself wandering through a crowd of several thousand people at the Black Lives Matters demo in Edinburgh where stewards handed out masks free of charge.

It was staged just as the First Minister announced she was minded to make the wearing of masks mandatory in shops and on public transport.

Nicola Sturgeon’s choice of words were interesting. I suspect she was just testing the water – a trick deployed by all leaders before they come to a conclusion on a potentially thorny issue.

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More than eleven weeks into lockdown, I sense people are looking for a route which takes them closer to normality, not more restrictions or adaptations to routine, so a mandatory ruling may be tricky to enforce. Indeed, exactly who would enforce it?

Lockdown restrictions only work when everyone buys in for the greater good.

If folk are ambivalent about wearing masks– and they clearly are – there’s a hearts and minds jobs to be done. Since March, the vast majority have adhered to the rules, and those wearing masks have been very much in the minority.

Many have struggled to figure out when and where to use them. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve seen someone pull their mask down to talk or have a ciggie, or saunter around with it hanging down on their chin. They’d be as well not bothering.

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At the other end of the scale, some folk are sporting industrial style masks, and I saw an old fella out for a walk with his flat cap and full PPE visor, but each to their own.

I do wonder why our political leaders didn’t endorse wearing masks much earlier given they are, by definition, a physical barrier to spreading the virus.

But Sunday’s mass demo changed my thinking. I now carry a face mask in my rucksack.

And, that change didn’t come about as a result of any political leader’s words – it was entirely down to seeing, for the first time. the vast majority all wearing masks.Call it peer pressure…

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It also got me thinking. The demo – which drove a horse and cart through restrictions on mass gatherings – showed that IF social distancing is adhered to (and quite clearly, it was), AND we wear masks, could this be a way ahead for outdoor events and the tentative return of some fans to sports grounds?

Health is precious and cannot be sacrificed, but in tacitly allowing this demo, our political leaders have, perhaps unintentionally, given us a glimpse of the new normal?

I bet there were thousands at Sunday’s demo who now have a face mask in their pocket for the first time.

That’s step one. The next is to get them to wear them when necessary for the protection of all.

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Maybe the simplest of steps could lead to the biggest stride forward yet …

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