Writing about making a face mask compulsory for indoor settings or introducing proof-of-vaccine COVID-19 passports to watch a football match or go inside a restaurant and save Christmas is guaranteed to make the blood boil among those fed-up with even thinking or talking about the coronavirus.

So, apologies to any who would rather wish Covid away and refuse to even contemplate that we could be just weeks away from the government imposing another lockdown which would wreck the chance to meet friends and relatives in the build-up to Christmas.

But I feel I must say something, despite risking the wrath of not just the anti-vaxxers but also those who still needs convincing that we’d all be a lot safer if everyone got the vaccine and wore a face mask in public.

So how does a face mask reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19?

For while many other countries are learning to live with the coronavirus by taking simple precautions like wearing a face mask in supermarkets and overtaking us in vaccinating their young as well as older people, too many people, especially in England, seem happy to ignore the virus and hope it has gone away.

Reminds me of Brexit debate 

The difficulty in having a sensible debate about how UK should respond to the steep rise in COVID-19 infections reminds me of the problems trying to understand both sides of the Brexit argument.

But that was only about leaving the European Union. This is a matter of life-and-death, or at least very serious and long-lasting illness for many infected!

Right now, the UK has among the highest number of cases of COVID-19 in the world, with infections nearing 50,000 on Wednesday 20 October. The day before, 223 people died within 28 days of testing positive of the virus. 

Based on the number of infections per 100,000 – the measurement often used to make a fair comparison of Covid cases between different countries – the UK had 463 infections per 100,000 on 20 October, while Germany had 80 cases per 100,000, France 48 and Spain just 24. 

Time to mask-up to avoid Christmas lockdown

So, surely you would think it was time for the UK to take some limited action to stop the spread of the virus, a so-called Plan B with compulsory face masks indoors, working from home if can and sorting out a stalling vaccine booster programme.

But no, as PoliticsHome reported with a headline: ‘Number 10 rejects NHS call to trigger Covid “Plan B” despite highest deaths and cases since March’.

The prime minister Boris Johnson is dithering again, despite this costing so many lives when he was slow to act in earlier rounds of COVID-19, something I’ve blogged about before.

He seems to fear upsetting his own Tory MPs and supporters, including Leader of the House of Commons Jacob Rees-Mogg, who scoffed at the idea of wearing a face mask in crowded parliamentary debates unlike the Speaker of the Commons, Sir Lindsay Hoyle (pictured).

No problem wearing a face mask for Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle unlike Rees-Mogg Image:PoliticsHome

While it might lose Boris Johnson the support of a few Covid-deniers and anti-vaxxers, implementing the right measures now could save us from another pre-Christmas lockdown. And that would certainly prove unpopular and expose his indecisiveness! 

Mixed picture

I have more confidence in the public than the prime minister and more shoppers are wearing a face mask again, but it is still a mixed picture. 

The slowdown in the vaccine booster programme shouldn’t be blamed on the public.

It seems more to do with people not being contacted on time and a messy start surrounding giving the first jab to children with many parents not knowing where to go to get their kids vaccinated.

My hope is that as a popularist prime minister, Boris Johnson will do another of his famous U-turns and come off his high horse and stop hiding behind those scientists who say the number of patients in hospitals and deaths won’t be as bad as last winter because of the vaccines.

Remember last January’s spike in cases when more than 4,000 patients a day were admitted to hospital with the virus! Well we’re over the 1,000 mark already and it is only October!

And whatever the government says, the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) is not suggesting doing nothing. It recommends simple precautions like letting people work from home if they can this winter to minimise transmission on public transport and, of course, sticking on a face mask in indoor places and speeding up the vaccine programme.

Better messaging needed

Taking a pee to get the message about spreading the virus

The messaging needs to improving, too! Just advising people to take precautions isn’t enough.

Perhaps we should try a bit of British humour to help get the message across that the safety measures that we adopted at the height of the pandemic were as much about protecting other more vulnerable people than just ourselves.

You may never know if the person you are passing in the supermarket is fighting cancer or has just had an operation and has a weakened immune system. So wearing a face mask in public is just a wee thing to ask!

Fish and chip shop clarity 

Certainly, my local fish and chips shop in Middlesbrough would welcome a bit of clarity and the government making it crystal clear that customers should only be served wearing a face mask.

At the moment the owner only let three customers inside at a time and politely asks customers to wear a face mask, as all the staff always do, but about half ignore the ‘voluntary guidance’ and the shop can’t do any more.

It would be so much simpler if we all played by the same rules and made face coverings and social distancing the norm again.

It would also avoid what is developing into another ‘them and us’ divide, which isn’t healthy and reminds me of the Brexit debate. 

Masks protect the more vulnerable

Just to clarify, I don’t like wearing a face mask either and have grown a little ‘goatee beard’ to stop the mask rubbing against my sensitive chin, but it seems like a small price to pay and it reminds others that  Covid hasn’t gone away. 

As Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, says: “We risk stumbling into a winter crisis unless measures such as face masks and vaccine passports are introduced in England.”

He wants government ministers to come up with a ‘Plan C’ of even tougher restrictions if necessary and says: “The government should not wait for Covid infections to rocket and for NHS pressures to be sky high before the panic alarm is sounded.” 

So, let’s put up with a few inconveniences like wearing a mask and getting the jab to save Christmas and be one-step ahead of a government who can’t seem to make its mind up about what’s really important in life.