In less than a year, masks have changed the face of our nation. Suddenly, we were almost all concealed; facial recognition stopped working on my iPhone, I had to squint to recognise neighbours at the local Waitrose, and I realised with exasperation how much I lip read.
Of course, medical workers among others had been masked up for years – my mother, who works for the NHS, advised that to take my mind off an itchy nose I should think of lemons. But with everyone including the Queen now fitting their mask on before stepping out, it’s just one way that times have changed immeasurably since the carefree days of early 2020.
Masks became mainstream because of the pandemic, and they may well be here to stay. If and when Covid is at bay, what about air pollution? According to studies it sends 40,000 people to an early grave in the UK annually – almost half of our current Covid death toll.
Think about it – how comfortable would you feel stepping onto the crowded, musty underground in the future, where dust and grime are visible at every turn? England’s deputy chief medical officer Professor Jonathan Van-Tam told a national newspaper on Thursday, “I think there are going to be people who make a personal decision to say, ‘you know what, when I’m in a crowded place in the winter I’m going to put a face covering on. When I’m on a tube I am going to put a face covering on.’”
But mass need is always met by mass production, with all its failings in quality. “When Covid hit, it was troubling, because a lot of companies were jumping into the mask business for a big buck,” says Chris Hosmer, founder of AirPop masks. “And because the consumer mask space is unregulated, unlike the industrial and medical masks, a lot of companies were making outlandish claims. They were selling products that were not doing what they said and actively harming people due to a false sense of security.”