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Mask addiction syndrome- Why are people loving wearing them?

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Roger Watson

Ever heard of Angela Rasmussen, a virologist at the Georgetown Center for Global Health Science and Security in the USA? Well, you have now. I only encountered her this week when this little ray of sunshine was quoted in an editorial in Scientific American as follows: “I really hope that [mask wearing] becomes part of our culture and that we are more conscious of how even mild infections can potentially impact other people.” I am sure that I would be infinitely happier if I stopped reading the multiple health related bulletins that I receive daily. I am convinced that they are bad for my health.

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I have already referred in this column to the incredible propensity that many people—old and young—have for wearing masks, even when they are not required. For example, outside and driving a car alone. I despair at the people who wear a mask whilst cycling without a helmet and I tweeted the other day about a woman, intent on getting her mask on properly while crossing the road, who stepped out in front of me while I was driving. I have long feared that we will never be rid of masks, and I suppose that if others want to wear them beyond any legal requirement and look ridiculous in the process, then who am I to stop them?

I was in Hong Kong in summer 2003 on the very week when the first SARS outbreak took place. Returning soon after, post-SARS, it was remarkable how many people were then wearing face masks. It is even more remarkable—across the Far East—China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Japan—how wearing disposable surgical face masks has become the norm very quickly and how widespread it is. When I question colleagues about it, they tell me that have a cold or just a cough and that they do not want to infect others. I guess that these are cultures where taking a sick day is frowned upon, so people find any excuse—well or sick—to get into work. They are impervious to evidence-based arguments that masks are next to useless and that, by persisting in coming to work and travelling on crowded public transport, they probably constitute more of a risk than if they had simply remained at home.

But the COVID-19 pandemic has really ratcheted up the mask wearing in the Far East and hardly an email, a WhatsApp or a WeChat conversation in the early days of the pandemic with Chinese colleagues ended without a ‘remember to wear a mask’. This is one red rag to my bull, and I always have an exchange about it just to see what they will say. When pushed they will almost always admit that the evidence for their use is scanty but that they wear them out of solidarity. If I ask: ‘solidarity with whom?’ that is usually the end of the conversation. In fact, wearing a mask out of ‘solidarity’ is essentially World Health Organisation official policy according to that wonderful man its Director Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. Taken to its logical conclusion, should we all be wearing colostomy bags or urinary catheters out of solidarity with others who wear them?

But back to that luminary Angela Rasmussen, virologist at the Georgetown Center for Global Health Science and Security. What kind of dystopia do these sorts of people want to live in, and how do they think the human race has managed to get here after millions of years without face masks? I am assuming that Dr Rasmussen has access to the evidence regarding the effectiveness, or lack thereof, of wearing face masks. Can she not see the damage they are doing? They reduce communication, they are claustrophobic and, frankly, disgusting to wear for more than a few minutes. Our streets are littered with face masks which have been inappropriately disposed of and society is already divided enough over masks without irresponsible clowns like Dr Rasmussen lending her support to the virtue signallers and heightening fear among those already terrified.

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