Last Monday, the long-awaited “freedom day” came to pass, and all Covid-19 restrictions on social contact were lifted in England. Many are cheering on the elimination of the requirement to wear masks indoors, with mask policies now being in the hands of venues and individuals rather than the government.
But for many, including myself, “freedom day” came with an unexpected dose of apprehension.
Cases and hospital admissions are rising – in fact, case numbers are close to what they were last autumn. And while deaths are not rising as steeply and the vaccine is being rolled out, many remain vulnerable.
Like many young people, I have only had one dose of my vaccine, and I can’t get my second one until the end of August. Against the Delta variant, which accounts for 99% of cases in the UK, a single dose of the Pfizer vaccine is only 36% effective, and a single dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine is 30% effective.
So, I am fairly vulnerable to the virus in spite of not having any clinical risk factors, and if I were to catch it now, I would have to reschedule my second dose appointment for even later in the year.
The end of the legal requirement to wear a mask indoors means that many are now choosing not to. If more of the adult population were fully vaccinated against Covid-19, or there were still some restrictions on social contact, such as requirements to social distance, perhaps I would feel more comfortable exposing myself to unmasked people in less-ventilated spaces.
But with all restrictions having been scrapped, for all I know, half the people not wearing a mask in the queue at Tesco went clubbing this week and could be carrying the virus now. There’s a higher risk of catching Covid-19 now, and with masks having been shown to protect you against getting ill even if other people aren’t wearing one.
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Putting on a mask makes me feel a lot safer. For all I know, it might make others around me feel safer as well – many of my friends have felt anxiety at the lifting of restrictions, and I’m sure they’re not the only ones.
I also feel that with the rapid spread of the virus, I have a duty of care towards those who are more vulnerable to complications from it. After all, even those who are fully vaccinated can catch Covid-19, and for people who have additional risk factors, such as age or respiratory problems, the lifting of restrictions means that they are newly exposed to an illness that could kill them.
Even those who may not die could suffer from long-term effects on their health, such as reduced lung function. And this doesn’t account for the emotional pain that comes with a relative becoming infected with Covid-19. With restrictions being lifted, we should be as careful as possible to reduce the spread of the virus.
Choosing to wear a mask is, for me, a choice to do all I can to keep from harming those who are more vulnerable to Covid-19 and its effects. I don’t think it would be fair of me to put them at increased risk of harm.
Certainly, if I were to become ill with the virus because someone could have easily worn a mask and chose not to, I would have a hard time finding a justification for that choice. If it comes down to choosing between personal comfort and risking others’ long-term health, the stakes are clear.
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I must admit that another factor that pushes me to wear a mask is simply feeling that I am being coherent. I personally disagree with the government’s decision to lift all restrictions.
How can I criticise this decision while defending a choice to not wear a mask or take any additional measures to stop the spread? Wearing a face mask, for me, is not only a question of protecting myself and others, but about sticking with my principles.
Since the government confirmed that restrictions would be lifted, I’ve seen many businesses that I respect ask their customers to keep on wearing face masks, as well as many people around me continuing to wear them. It’s a very encouraging thing to see, and I hope that more people continue to choose to be cautious and wear a mask.