THERE’S an advert on the radio, I assume from the UK Government, warning us not to share stuff about Covid in case it’s fake news. I wonder if I shared government and scientific advice from a few months ago about mask wearing, would that qualify?

Chris Whitty, for example, England's chief medical officer, said that wearing masks if you don’t have the infection reduces the risk “not at all”. Two companies were even found guilty of false advertising in March for daring to claim that masks can protect you from “viruses, bacteria and other air pollutants”.

It seems like common sense to me that mask-wearing will do something. I guess this comes from watching hospital dramas where masks are always worn in surgery. But then, this is in a highly disinfected environment where even fingernails are scrubbed – hardly the equivalent of the local trip to Tesco.

The effectiveness of masks is questionable, often touched and pulled at, half worn, or used time and again and removed from your mouth so that you can be understood. My Dundonian mask-wearing taxi driver wasn’t impressed by their effectiveness, in fact I’ve heard a number of half-wearing punters complaining outside shops about the “carry on” with masks.

Their scepticism shouldn’t be dismissed. Not least of all because only 0.03 percent of people are thought to have the virus, meaning you’d need to be breathed upon by 4,000 shoppers to even stand a chance of catching it.

Numerous commentators have suggested that part of the mask wearing decision was based on the government belief that this would give people the confidence to get back to normal. It could, of course, have the opposite effect and encourage a sense of anxiety, to bolster the precautionary principle that appears to be guiding the government approach, especially in Scotland.

The Advertising Standards Authority ruled that the adverts promoting mask wearing by companies in March were, “misleading, irresponsible and likely to cause fear without justifiable reason”. Oh, how things have changed.

The better safe than sorry approach appears to be directing policy on Covid-19 – as soon as we think we've got out, governments drag us back in. What happens with the next virus or a bad winter flu? At this rate we will be in a semi-lockdown for eternity, living in a new abnormal, where the science changes from one week to the next, but always follows the most cautious and potentially economically destructive path.

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