Mask Theatre

I was struck by an article in Stuff recently talking about “hygiene theatre” in relation to covid and how the New Zealand parliament continues to have people moving around daily cleaning all the door handles, lift buttons, and so on.  I agree it is just theatre and unnecessary.

The point of this op-ed is to suggest that mask wearing is now in exactly the same category, that is, simple hygiene - or covid - theatre.  Personally, I think it has been this way for a long time and somewhat ironically maintained by the same supposed experts who have now changed their tune on surface transmission.


I have written before about how mask wearing has become redundant.  I would stress that masks in a perfect controlled environment are effective.  But we don’t live in such a world, and the application of their wearing and use these days leave much to be desired.   A bit like ‘scanning in’ was a few months back, mask wearing has become honoured in the breach; that is, not really being done all that well and more with the quality of theatre that we are discussing. 


Think I am wrong?  Well, just look around you now and over the course of the next hour.  How many are wearing cloth masks which are, for intents and purposes, ineffective, but do look nice and usually come with some corporate or political message?  How many are wearing masks with their noses out, or under their chin? How many do you see taking their masks off as they cough?  How many people around you are currently wearing them on an ear, on their arm, around their wrist … or anywhere but on their face? And this is all before we talk about how masks are to be handled – that is, carefully by the straps, kept clean, and so on.  As I say often, if you want to wear a mask - go for it.  Wear three for all I care.  It should now be your rightful and individual choice, but not your choice to force others.


And let’s not even raise beyond a passing mention of when you are, and are not, meant to wear them.  The rules are inconsistent and I would argue, almost only exist to promote theatre and remind us to be afraid.  In parliament and particularly during debates in the House, masks are now as much about political theatre and control than any health consideration.  The ability to properly debate and consequently hold the government to account is severely curtailed.  That it is acceptable for a hundred or so people to sing a waiata without masks from the elevated position that is the public gallery and yet MPs must wear a mask at all times is absurd.  Let me be clear - I think it is great people can re-enter the parliament and sing; it is absurd that I and others cannot even sit in the chamber silent without a mask.  Further examples from within parliament alone is the need to wear a mask while walking corridors, but not when seated ‘cheek by jowl’ with a room full of visitors.  And let’s not even talk about how you wear masks on a plane but can take it off to have a coffee and biscuit.  Who knew that tea and coffee drinking was a prophylactic to covid!


A final set of observations around the opining experts.  What strikes me is that many of these same experts frightening us into acquiesce months ago around disinfecting surfaces are now often the same people saying that such cleaning is now not needed.  They are also the same ones currently arguing the maintenance of masks despite a growing body of evidence and practice.  By practice, I mean for example the United States removing mask mandates or in recent days, the European Union removing the requirement for masks while travelling. 


Let’s be clear, the science and understanding of matters does change and even more so when you consider the speed and intensity that has been coronavirus.  With this pandemic, we have not had the luxury of time.  It is for this very reason I call for an end to the mask mandates.  The theatrical curtain has figuratively fallen on surface cleaning and I would argue mask wearing too.