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Face coverings are “a matter of common decency”

One of Albert Camus’s finest works, The Plague, is set in the Algerian city of Oran where a deadly and vicious plague ravages the local population. It is a cruel twist of fate that a novel of fiction teaches us so much about our current situation. Particularly resonant are the words of Dr Rieux: “There’s no question of heroism in all this. It’s a matter of common decency. That’s an idea which may make some people smile, but the only means of righting a plague is common decency”.

Dr Rieux was right – there is nothing particularly heroic about taking small steps to prevent the spread of Covid-19. Putting on a mask in public spaces requires no personal sacrifice whatsoever. Rather, the use of face coverings ought to be considered an act of ‘common decency’ that, together with social distancing and frequent hand sanitisation, can help humanity ‘right’ this new plague.  

There was some confusion earlier in the year about the effectiveness of masks against the transmission of the virus. Common sense was not so common then. Some claimed that there was no scientific proof, usually the same group who claim that 5G towers caused the virus. Now there is a plethora of proof which should make us understand the obvious. While not a panacea, face masks work and help to control the spread of the virus. 

Tutors should be given the right to deny a student entry if they refuse to wear a mask for the duration of the seminar, without good medical reason

The situation in the UK regarding face masks, while less extreme than in the USA, still ought to garner attention and criticism. Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon seems to be doing a good job fending off coronavirus, but the situation in England is quite different. The recent government mandate to wear face coverings in enclosed spaces seems reasonably competent and could do a great deal to help the struggle against coronavirus. 

However, ASDA, Tesco, and Sainsbury’s have said that they will not make customers wear face coverings in their stores. There is evidence that closed and air-conditioned places are the greatest allies of Covid-19 when it comes to spreading, despite social distancing. I am stupefied by the decision of the nation’s largest supermarket retailers to be complicit in the infection of their own customers. I would argue that negligence of this degree is equitable to manslaughter.

Enforcing mask wearing is difficult, but the UK government should actively stigmatise people who refuse to wear masks. Stigmatisation campaigns have helped to quell the number of smokers greatly in the UK and around the world, and have saved the NHS millions of pounds in the process. Much the same tactic should be applied now. Yes, fines are a step in the right direction, but the real motive for people to wear masks in public spaces should be the desire to do the decent thing. 

The UK government should actively stigmatise people who refuse to wear masks

The government should make masks more widely available, and even make them free. Masks are such a crucial element to the tackling of coronavirus that they should be treated as part of medical care: free and available to all, permitting no excuse to not wear a face covering other than pure malice. 

When we return to university this Autumn, strict mask-wearing rules should be applied. As Warwick still plans to hold in-person seminars this coming academic year, tutors should be given the right to deny a student entry if they refuse to wear a mask for the duration of the seminar, without good medical reason. Even though younger people are less at risk of falling fatally ill from coronavirus, many students live off campus. Students are active members of society and carelessness will lead to deaths both on and off campus. We students should not fall into the fallacy, almost peddled by the University, that because of our young age we are somehow immune. 

Furthermore, Warwick should make a copious number of masks freely available to all students until a successful vaccine is found. A failure to do this puts the community at risk and should worry all students. I hope that the University doesn’t turn this into a marketable opportunity, providing masks as promotional material during Freshers’ week. That would be an insult to our lives and to science. 

Warwick should make a copious number of masks freely available to all students

We are lucky that the nation which hosts our university has a strong and free public health system. The UK is wealthy enough to provide masks on a grand scale. Even in Turkey where the Lira is reaching its lowest levels ever, and the nation is controlled by a megalomaniacal Sultan who quashes freedom of speech and basic liberties, masks are easily accessible for free. There is no excuse for the developed nations of the world not to ensure widespread mask-wearing.

The real heroes are our doctors, nurses, and other health staff. They fight this virus with every atom of their being and uphold the Hippocratic oath come what may. To those who complain about wearing masks – yes, they are uncomfortable. I am sure, however, that intensive care is more so. We must all do the decent thing and care for our fellow human beings in this world which is now comparable to Oran. 

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