Face masks

My thoughts on Helen Mirren’s casting

On Monday, I had a whinge-walk with Lizzie, my friend of 47 years. We met at breathing classes for our first babies and we gave birth on the same day in the now defunct Avenue Clinic in St John’s Wood. Our children grew up joined at the hip. Today my daughter Amy is a playwright in NW3 and Lizzie’s is a Buddhist monk in Nepal. Amy is with me at least twice a week, though her mother’s ability to make off-the-cuff remarks which generate front-page headlines makes her wish she was the one in a Nepalese monastery. I faced my daughter’s embarrassment and near cultural cancellation last week after I

The problems with Boris Johnson’s mask mandate

Today the government has said that for the next three weeks it will be mandatory to wear masks in shops and on public transport, pending a review. It was already mandatory to wear a mask on the tube, as a condition of travel. So to avoid mixing up ideas, let’s focus on the new mandate from the government: that people will have to wear masks in shops. Imposing a requirement that anyone entering a shop must wear a mask, whether the shop wants to accept them or not, is a straightforward imposition on human liberty. We have accepted huge infringements upon our liberties over the past 21 months. We did

Katy Balls

Boris Johnson brings back mandatory masks

After two cases of the new Omicron variant were identified in the UK, the Prime Minister held a Downing Street press conference this afternoon to update the public on the government’s response. As research gets underway to identify whether the new Covid variant is partially vaccine resistant – and how quickly it spreads compared to the Delta strain – Boris Johnson spoke of his desire to slow the spread of the variant here in the UK. Chief Scientific Officer Patrick Vallance said three things needed to be done in order to do this: First, limit the number of cases arriving in the UK from abroad. Second, limit the spread of

The Covid pantomime at my father’s memorial

This last weekend I attended the memorial service for my father, who died in July. This isn’t a bid for sympathy. Everyone’s father dies; most of us expect to suffer our bereavements in private; you didn’t know him. But in a larger sense, this is a bid for sympathy. That is, sympathy for us all. Beforehand, Riverside Church — a grand, storied edifice on Manhattan’s Upper West Side — had sent out an email circular to prospective attendees. Perhaps recipients might have anticipated a ministerial reaching out: ‘We treasured Dr Shriver’s membership of our congregation, and Riverside’s clerics wish to convey our sorrow at your loss. We regard his passing

Should trains have mask and non-mask carriages?

In deciding whether or not to wear a mask after 19 July, I am sure Boris Johnson is right that one must consider the feelings of others. But I notice this consideration is argued only one way: those not wearing masks are asked to consult the sensitivities of those wearing them. Should not people who insist on continuing to wear masks also be invited to reflect on whether their behaviour might upset the unmasked? After all, in a culture long committed to showing your face as a mark of trust, covering it is depressing and even intimidating for others. It makes people almost inaudible. Or perhaps the simpler answer on

Who was the first to wear a face mask?

Mask crusader Who first wore a medical face mask? — The beaked outfits worn by plague doctors aside, the first doctor to wear a mask was the French abdominal surgeon Paul Berger in 1897. His mask, made from six layers of gauze, was inspired by the work of German microbiologist Carl Flugge, who had revealed what a good breeding ground saliva is for bacteria. Berger delivered a paper on masks to the Surgical Society of Paris in 1899, after which they were adopted in other countries. Penalty points How many penalties are scored in the European Football Championship and World Cup? — The overall scoring rate is 75%. In shootouts

The economic case for ditching mask mandates

After many months of hardship and sacrifice, freedom is finally within grasp. Boris Johnson has reclaimed his buccaneering, libertarian spirit and punctured the hopes of zero Covid zealots who wanted more working from home, social distancing and masks. When it comes to face coverings, however, lockdown fans have been working hard to convince the public that they ought to wear them voluntarily — on the off-chance they have the virus and unwittingly hop on to a tube carriage with the unvaccinated. Are they right? Masks are undeniably inconvenient. They’re a pain to wear and a nuisance if forgotten. They reduce the ability to communicate, interpret and mimic the expressions of those with

The luxury of being pro-lockdown

I’ve just written an essay for the People’s Lockdown Inquiry, a new collaboration between Buckingham University, the Institute of Ideas and the Reclaim party. The question I’ve puzzled over in my contribution is why the global elite became such enthusiastic supporters of the heavy-handed, statist approach to managing the coronavirus crisis — stay-at home orders, business closures, face masks — and passionate opponents of less draconian alternatives, such as those set out by the signatories of the Great Barrington Declaration. Choosing between these two positions is far from simple, with powerful moral arguments and compelling research evidence on both sides. Yet most members of the upper professional class across the

The polarising power of plague

Now that the government has kindly allowed us to go out again, I wonder if anyone has discovered the same social challenge I have encountered? Which is that almost nobody agrees on anything. I should pre-empt a possible line of attack here and acknowledge that I am aware of the case study I am basing this on. Still I fancy the problem is wider than myself. Of course we never did agree on everything. But, after a year of seclusion, it seems that as we de-bubble, the divergences are far greater than before. Not least regarding what we have just been through. It forks off at the very beginning. For

The strange theatre of mask-wearing

However surreal and dystopian the pandemic landscape seemed at first, no enduring vista feels ‘surreal’ and ‘dystopian’ indefinitely. Citizenries uniformly obliterating their faces with ear-to-ear muzzles has come to seem par for the course. But I’m still amazed by how eagerly a certain segment has embraced masking in public, especially in the US. More perplexingly still, many of these people regard any release from mask mandates as an attempt to take something precious away from them. They recall a certain kind of belligerent animal that gets trapped in a cage, and when you open the door it glooms in a corner and refuses to leave. Witness the response last week

The Trump nightmare isn’t over

What would happen to the Republicans after Donald Trump? That has been one of the pundits’ favourite themes in the past few months. Maybe the GOP could run against Joe Biden’s massive spending and borrowing splurge, some pondered; or go after some low-hanging woke excesses on the left; or exploit the huge influx of illegal immigrants at the southern border that Biden is bringing about so swiftly; or warn of inflation, or the generosity of pandemic relief holding back the recovery; or find some new young faces to appeal to minorities who moved ever so slightly to the right in the last election. And some Republicans have indeed made gestures

Face masks in schools: a note on the evidence

Secondary-school children returning to school from 8 March will be required to wear masks in classrooms, at least for several weeks. That is in contrast to the initial return of children to school last summer. It wasn’t until November that they were required to wear masks at school, and then only in corridors and other communal areas. But should we be forcing children to wear masks? A German study – in a preprint which has yet to be peer-reviewed – has reported negative symptoms of children who wear masks in that country.  As the researchers point out, there is a lack of evidence on the use of masks in school

Is zero Covid achievable? A scientific debate about the virus

Throughout the year Carl Heneghan, professor of evidence-based medicine at Oxford, and Simon Clarke, associate professor of cellular microbiology at Reading, have written for The Spectator about the virus and the government’s measures to contain it. They have had very different outlooks, but can they agree about what will happen next? They start by looking back at their early predictions. CLARKE: During the first wave I said: don’t lock down too quickly because there will be a cost. People won’t like it. But if we had acted sooner, perhaps we wouldn’t have been locked down for quite so long and the death toll probably wouldn’t have been so high. I

Matthew Parris

My cure for the common cold

You really don’t want to know about my coughs and sneezes, particularly during the festive season, but bear with me because this it isn’t really about my sniffles. My argument applies to everyone, and it’s cheerful. All of us have a lifetime of experience of seasonal colds and flu, starting with the fact that they don’t always happen in winter. Mine is typical of many. Every year, often about this time, I get a fairly bad cold. Sometimes two in a year. I call it ‘flu’ and women call it ‘man flu’ but let’s not bandy names: it starts with a sudden sore throat and one or two uncomfortable nights.

Landmark Danish study finds no significant effect for facemask wearers

Do face masks work? Earlier this year, the UK government decided that masks could play a significant role in stopping Covid-19 and made masks mandatory in a number of public places. But are these policies backed by the scientific evidence? Yesterday marked the publication of a long-delayed trial in Denmark which hopes to answer that very question. The ‘Danmask-19 trial’ was conducted in the spring with over 6,000 participants, when the public were not being told to wear masks but other public health measures were in place. Unlike other studies looking at masks, the Danmask study was a randomised controlled trial – making it the highest quality scientific evidence. Around half

The transatlantic mask divide

Should we wear our masks? The question has been on my mind as I have been battered that way and this by a variety of people with stronger feelings than mine on the matter. The week before last, while I was walking down Oxford Street, police outriders began to emerge. Like most of the public I stopped with interest and some excitement, wondering who the traffic might be halting for. Sadly it turned out to be neither the Queen nor Matt Hancock. Instead the traffic was being stopped for several thousand anti-lockdown protestors. Those of us who had hoped to catch a glimpse of, or even a wave from, the

Dear Mary: How can my celebrity husband still be recognised in a face mask?

Q. I am running out of suitable responses to a friend who now has the slightest possible connection to one of our ancient seats of learning. He never mentions his own child (who is at a very new, very undistinguished university) but goes into endless detail about his girlfriend’s daughter who is in her final year at Cambridge. In particular he can’t resist sharing his delight at being allowed to drive down Trinity Street to drop off her luggage, and the excitement he feels every time one of the college servants doffs his hat and calls him ‘Sir’. Having listened to this same anecdote at least twice a term for

Will the next U-turn be on face masks at work?

There’s a new trend emerging when it comes to Covid-19 policy: where Scotland leads, England follows. In recent weeks, decisions taken by Nicola Sturgeon have – eventually – been adopted by the UK government for England: first, the U-turn on how A-level and GCSE results would be attributed, and today another U-turn on face masks in schools. When Scotland announced face masks would be made mandatory for pupils earlier in the week, the government remained adamant that this would not be required in English schools. But within days, the advice quite substantially changed, now requiring secondary school students in local lockdown areas to wear them in the corridors and communal areas. The

The danger of following ‘the science’

I have decided to divorce my wife after 31 years on scientific grounds. Though perfectly happy, on reassessing my original decision to enter matrimony it has emerged that at no point was that choice subject to peer review, there was no randomised control trial, the experiment could not be replicated and the data-set on which I based my decision failed to provide the levels of statistical confidence required. In reality, what you don’t know is always more critical than what you do I don’t think my decision to marry was bad, but it was definitely unscientific. Most important decisions are. Indeed if one phrase has most irritated me in the

Letters: Will office workers ever want to return?

The future of offices Sir: I agree with much of Gerard Lyons’s article about the future of the capital (‘London in limbo’, 8 August), but there is more to consider. Before the virus, many organisations considered having staff working from home. However, there were always objections: people needed to be at meetings; the technology wasn’t good enough; questions over whether workers would work their contracted hours. With the onset of the virus, working from home was forced upon many, and has proved to work better than could ever have been expected. Will these workers ever want to come back to the office? Many will miss the social side of work,