Will mask putting on still be common in Britain just after the pandemic is over?

Face masks have been a vital element of the UK’s technique to comprise COVID-19, but have also evoked contradictory emotions and reactions. Some see masks as an crucial usually means to halt the virus’s unfold, as properly as a indication of social thought and altruism. Other individuals have politicised them, viewing mask mandates as trampling above their legal rights as individuals.

But what will mask sporting in the British isles glimpse like in the prolonged term? This is an intriguing problem, and a person that our interdisciplinary crew is at present exploring as element of a more substantial task on the part that the media plays in influencing people’s decisions to wear masks. Our research covers what things generate individuals to put on masks throughout distinct components of the globe, checking out the use and outcomes of media messaging in the British isles in mild of what happens somewhere else, these types of as in east Asia.

Globally, the United kingdom sits someplace concerning the politicisation of mask wearing viewed in the US and the additional communitarian mask putting on of east Asia. Importantly, the US and United kingdom never have a record of mask donning to create on, whereas many east Asian countries do.

Persons in east Asia have worn masks for a host of health-related, cultural and environmental causes due to the fact at least the first 50 % of the 20th century. Masks are worn out of courtesy, to prevent placing on makeup, to hold heat, to prevent attention and interaction, and to protect against the sun. They’re also worn to protect towards air pollution (the 100 towns around the globe with the worst air pollution are all in Asia), however men and women may overestimate the security they present.

The real turning issue, although, came in 2002, with the outbreak of extreme acute respiratory syndrome (Sars), which begun in China right before spreading to Singapore and Taiwan more than the following 12 months. As a final result, masks grew in recognition, so significantly so that they came to be applied day to working day as trend equipment as properly as for protection. Could the identical point materialize in the Uk as well?

How masks turned usual in Asia

In numerous east Asian countries, the large uptake of mask putting on has been pushed by govt messaging. As a result of Sars and avian flu, for instance, the governing administration in Hong Kong urged people today regularly, obviously and regularly to use facial area masks when they experienced flu-like signs or symptoms, equally to stop disease and get ready for other potential flu-like epidemics. Warnings have been frequently broadcast on television and in train stations.

Meanwhile, in Japan more than the past couple a long time the governing administration has pressured that it’s up to particular person citizens to direct a nutritious way of living. In the early 2000s, community wellbeing programmes and rules were being released to get persons to actively observe and acquire treatment of their very own wellbeing.

At the time of the 2009 swine flu epidemic, the Japanese authorities then relied on this sense of private obligation to enable have the virus. Marketing campaign posters at the time read through: “The spread of the influenza should be prevented by every single particular person!” This demonstrates the feeling of duty to act for the “greater good” that exists in quite a few Asian nations, and which manifests alone in men and women choosing to have on masks if they come to feel beneath the weather conditions so they really do not pass any illness on.

Presented the prior prevalence of mask wearing in Japan, it is unsurprising that mask uptake has been high all through the pandemic.
Kimimasa Mayama/EPA-EFE

The achievement of this tactic may well be thanks to a lot of of these countries – like China and Japan – obtaining what the anthropologist Geert Hofstede has outlined as “reduced individualism”. In these kinds of nations around the world, the prevailing society frequently favours performing in the interests of the team. A sturdy motivation to adhere to social norms will consequently influence individuals to don masks. The power of this may perhaps be so potent that mask wearing moves from remaining one thing specific at specific health and fitness threats to a common practice, adhered to day by day without a certain intent.

The emergence of branded masks or masks as fashion statements reflects this. For illustration, in Japan, what is known as “kawaii” culture is powerful. This encompasses a like for anime figures, sweet animal mascots and vibrant manner, and masks have established to be an straightforward home for this aesthetic. Masks getting stylish might then in change impact behaviour, creating the everyday wearing of them far more preferred.

Will the same traits show up in the United kingdom?

In the short term, it’s unlikely that Britain’s mask carrying will mirror Japan’s or Hong Kong’s. In east Asia, there’s been nearly two a long time of working experience with flu-like outbreaks, foremost to recurring federal government messaging about mask sporting and personalized accountability. There just has not been the exact context in the Uk.

There are cultural discrepancies to contemplate much too. Contrary to in Britain, in Asia sporting a encounter masking is not only completed by large figures of persons, but is also socially accepted of and expected, with reduce ranges of individualism driving conformity with this norm. Britain, in distinction, scores substantially extra hugely for individualism. Mask sporting, now that it’s broadly not mandatory in England, is thus far more probably to be observed as a issue of own choice.

A sign in a shop window reading: 'face masks your choice'
There is not a wide social consensus in the Uk on the need to have to dress in a mask.
Mark Morgan/Alamy Stock Photo

Present federal government messaging in England is also emphasising the rights of the personal (the branding of the lifting of limitations as “Freedom Day” becoming the critical illustration), and so stands in direct contradiction to supporting the greater social excellent by mask carrying.

In fact, anecdotally it does not look that frequent exposure to people today wearing masks – no matter if on Tv or in the avenue – has resulted in the growth of a ongoing professional-mask mind-set and long lasting conduct transform in the United kingdom, and a third of men and women have indicated that they will not proceed to dress in masks now they never have to. On the other hand, one way this could adjust is if mask donning ongoing to be depicted as normal throughout the media, including in fictional settings – on Tv and in films, audio video clips and so on.

If necessary for a much healthier upcoming, continuing to portray their use in this way could provide as a suggests to normalise them, past governmental strategies. This, although, isn’t a public health and fitness tactic that has been tried extensively to day.