AS the lockdown lengthens people are becoming stressed and tetchy yet simultaneously less vigilant.

You can feel the increase in anxiety levels in the way strangers snap at one another as they take their outdoor exercise or visit the supermarket.

The relaxing away from strict adherence to the government guidance is also evidenced in the increase in the number of journeys being made and the way people are less cautious about using public space. There has been an increase, in some parts of the country, in road traffic by as much as 10 per cent. Last weekend in my local park, the sun out and the sky an enamel blue, it was like any summer weekend of picknickers, sunbathers and folk passing on paths shoulder to shoulder.

Nicola Sturgeon, in yesterday's daily briefing, put the increase in vehicle journeys down to a straining against lockdown conditions. "You might feel you deserve it," she said, "After weeks of restraint. Believe me, I really understand all of that."

We're at around six weeks now and people are missing people, people are missing the things they previously took for granted. They have kept up with social distancing and washed their hands until the skin began to chafe. Tempers are also chafing.

Some are in strict adherence to the guidance. Others have let their guard down as time's gone on. These two groups don't make for a good mix.

And so to face masks. The First Minister this week made the suggestion that citizens might like to cover their mouth and nose when they go to places where a higher volume of people make social distancing difficult, for example at the supermarket or local shops, or on public transport.

Just a recommendation, nothing compulsory. That could have been that, but no.

The advice until now has been that masks make very little difference and are not recommended. Jason Leitch, the government's National Clinical Director, only at the beginning of April was very clear that wearing masks was not the right way forward.

But, as Professor Leitch pointed out, we are in a rapidly changing situation and advice, too, will rapidly change. The issue was not helped by Professor Hugh Pennington appearing on radio and television to say that face coverings are "very poor" and offer "little protection".

Waters were further muddied by constitutional grumbles, at Holyrood splitting in a different direction to Westminster. ITV's political reporter was given short shrift when asking Ms Sturgeon if the conflicting advice north and south of the border would be confusing.

"Are you reporting on confusion," she lobbed at Peter MacMahon, "Or are you actually helping to cause confusion?"

The wearing of face coverings is a seemingly straightforward piece of advice and not compulsory, so you can sympathise with frustrations over what turned into a protracted discussion.

At the same time, the public is being asked to absorb an entirely new lexicon and, for those of us with no science background at all, weigh up entirely new information and come to a choice that, we're told, could save lives. Or increase the death rate.

There is clearly a moral pressure there for individuals to do the right thing by making the right choice - and a societal pressure. It was mere weeks ago that we started talking about social distancing and now it has become part of the language as if it had always been common parlance.

Now we're reading about aerosol transmission, hearing about small scale studies into face coverings, being given conflicting advice from prominent scientists then being told we shouldn't feel confused.

There are countless suggestions for how best to wear a face covering. how to make them, the best materials to use, how to wear them and how to safely dispose of them. It's a lot of information to process.

At the supermarket on Wednesday, I saw no one wearing homespun face coverings and three people wearing medical-style masks. It's obviously a small sample size but the message didn't seem to have immediately prompted action.

However, the response I saw online to the suggestion of face coverings was that, if it's possible they might make some small positive change, people should wear them.

It's not the time for widespread public debates about conflicting studies and is the time for unity and collective action. If there is small gain and no loss, then it's difficult to argue against getting on board.

However, that takes us back to fraying tempers. Bruce Adamson, the children and young people’s commissioner for Scotland, along with a coalition of charities, has written to supermarkets to ask that parents with children are not turned away or shamed by staff when they go for groceries. Increasing numbers of parents are reporting being told to leave their children in the car or being verbally abused by other shoppers.

This shows no empathy or understanding for single parents. Or, of course, couples where one is ill, a key worker, or caring for a disabled child at home, and etc.

Face coverings risk becoming another cause for friction in public places. Some people will weigh up the pros and cons and choose not to. But not everyone will be able to wear masks - people with autism may struggle, those who are claustrophobic, people with asthma.

For deaf people, other people wearing masks makes communication more difficult or even impossible. It can be exhausting for lip readers, for example, to be on high alert constantly to what happening around them.

There needs to be an element of trust to our public interactions. We may feel we are doing a better job then those around us of sticking to the rules but there are many invisible barriers that force other people to make choices we may view as wrong.

Perhaps instead of rushing to berate someone who skips a queue or walks in your path, consider they might not know you're there. Before shouting at a mother and child in the supermarket, imagine she might prefer her child to be almost anywhere else than in a public place in a pandemic.

We're being asked to make personal decisions with the collective good in mind. Some people are careless and selfish but most people are trying their best so empathy, please, for those whose choices differ from yours.

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