News Comment: Why I still wear a mask
Now is not the time to drop our masks, says Catherine Walshe
Since so called ‘Freedom Day’ for England in July, two things have dismayed me. First, the numbers of those infected with, suffering and dying from, Covid-19. Second, the widespread return to ‘normal’. What surprises and concerns me in equal measure is our apparent inability to recognise that these are interrelated, and by embracing ‘freedom’ we are, at current levels of coronavirus infection across the UK, inevitably contributing to a level of illness and death which I find impossible to accept.
At the time of writing, the latest survey by the Office for National Statistics estimates that 1 in 60 people in England currently have Covid-19, with similar figures across other nations within the UK. This high level of infection has been sustained since July, unlike other peaks which have been squashed by lockdowns, but there are still 9,578 people who have died since then, at the time of writing (October). That is the equivalent of two jumbo jets’ worth of people dying from Covid-19 every week. And let us not forget that a high number of people go on to suffer from long Covid with often devastating long term consequences for their health.
Despite this appalling toll of illness, suffering and death we appear to have somehow normalised these figures. Are we prepared to ‘walk on by’? This level of disease and death is not inevitable. Other western countries have very much lower rates of infection and death at the moment. Currently there are 596 daily new cases per million population in the UK, but Portugal has 63, France 71, Germany 106. We appear to be accepting infection rates up to nine times higher than some of our near neighbours. This difference is also seen in our death rates, with 2.17 deaths per day per million population, compared to, for example, Portugal’s 0.98. Why this difference? While this is a complex situation with multiple interrelating factors, one contributing factor is probably the relatively widespread acceptance of continuing to wear masks in public and enclosed spaces that is seen in other countries…
Catherine Walshe is an elder at St John’s United Reformed Church, Warrington, Cheshire, and Professor of Palliative Care at Lancaster University. She writes in a personal capacity
This is an extract from an article published in the December 2021/January 2022 edition of Reform