Boris Johnson, a politician who advocates wearing masks in enclosed spaces, urged people to do the same as he said, but not as he did, last week as he led a cabinet meeting with 27 ministers without masks and eight observers.
Research suggests that masks reduce Covid-19 transmission by as much as 80%. However, there are disagreements about the amount of protection each mask offers the wearer. Science shows that almost any type of covering protects the community. This uneven interdependence is what makes masks so effective in revealing hypocrisy.
The London Underground system is a great example of the controversial role of the mask. The Transport for London website states that face coverings must be worn for all journeys on the TfL network. This includes inside stations and bus stations. This message is repeated on loudspeakers and advertising hoardings in underground stations.
This stipulation is ignored by as many as half of the travellers using the system. Friday was Friday. I took the Bakerloo line from Queens Park, to Oxford Circus. Only 16 people were wearing masks when I got off the train. There were 40 passengers in the carriage.
Commuter Sun Oh stated that she was afraid of people who weren't wearing masks when they coughed or if there were no masks.
She sneezes on her. Photo by Sophia Evans/The Observer
James Lennie, who was unmasked in Oxford Circus station, stated that the majority of people were now double-vaccinated and the risk was taken by those who chose not to be jabbed. He said, "Why should I go out if they don't want to help themselves?"
Although the vaccine provides up to 90% protection against infection, it is not foolproof. Even though the vaccine provides up to 90% protection against infection, some people can still get infected and need hospitalisation. Lennie was conscious of this and pointed out that he wore a mask most of the time. However, he wasn't convinced masks actually work.
He said that he couldn't recall the name of the man who appeared on morning TV, but that he believes, in general, coronavirus germs can be fit through masks.
Sun Oh, who was seated on a busy platform, didn't have a mask on but stated that she would before getting on the train. She said that when I pass someone without a mask, I feel almost afraid they will cough on me.
She felt that lipstick was ruined by masks, but she also felt that, as a friend put it, anyone who doesn't wear a face mask is a huge cock.
Many people claimed that they forgot to wear a mask on that day. However, others such as Diana, a Wembley housewife, in north-west London, said it wasn't an issue because she was double-vaccinated. Even though a TfL announcement reminded passengers that they must cover their noses and mouths,
A friend of mine caught corona while he was wearing masks, Diana said. He died in hospital. After I received the vaccine, I was able to stop wearing a mask.
Alicia and Josh, tube travellers, said that they believed wearing a cover over the face was a personal choice. Photograph by Sophia Evans/The Observer
The reactions of masked passengers to the naked fellow travellers seemed divided. Alicia and Josh, both unmasked passengers, were about to remove their masks, but they said it was up to each individual. Jack Phillips, who was travelling with his baby in a stroller, believed that the tube was the only place everyone should follow the rules. He said that he thinks he'll continue to wear it from now on because of the flu and colds.
Many passengers believe that masking up is not required despite repeated reminders from TfL. They also believe that the restrictions were lifted in England on freedom day, 19 July. None of the people I spoke with claimed any exemption.
A group of door-to–door salespeople was discovered while traveling north on the Bakerloo Line to Paddington. They shared stories about how angry other passengers were, and the anger at both the silence and anger they experienced. One of them recalled how a passenger got up to find a seat in another row because he wasn't wearing a mask. He said that he didn't mind. I was just given more space. His friend Charlie, a young man in 20s, complained to me from the opposite side of the carriage. I replied, "I don't have Covid" and he started shouting at me. He was extremely rude.
Julia, another member of the group, stated that she believed people who use public transport should have one. Everyone laughed when she said, "You are on public transport!"
A man in his 40s, wearing a mask, followed them as they disembarked and turned to me at the door. He proclaimed, his voice tense with passion, that he didn't agree with what they had said. I wear a mask every day. Covid really affected me.
It is evident that half of London Undergrounds passengers do not wear masks. This is a sign that the system cannot prevent infection, especially when flu season begins.
This is indicative of the mixed messages this government has been sending to combat the pandemic. It is not surprising that tube passengers are following the lead of cabinet ministers.
Johnson's statements in opposition to his actions are likely to be treated in the same way as TfL announcements: as background noise that can easily be ignored.