Will wearing a mask still be common in Britain after the pandemic ends?


Face masks have been a crucial part of the UK’s strategy to contain COVID-19, but have also sparked conflicting emotions and reactions. Some see masks as an important way to stop the spread of the virus, as well as a sign of social consideration and altruism. Others have politicized them, considering that mask mandates violate their rights as individuals.

But what will wearing a mask look like in the UK in the long term? This is an intriguing question, and one that our interdisciplinary team is currently exploring as part of a larger project on the role the media plays in influencing people’s decisions to wear masks. Our research covers the factors that cause people to wear masks in different parts of the world, exploring the use and effects of media messages in the UK in light of what is happening elsewhere, such as in Asia. East.

Globally, the UK sits somewhere between politicizing mask-wearing seen in the USA and the more communal masks of East Asia. It is important to note that the United States and the United Kingdom do not have a history of wearing a mask to rely on, unlike many countries in East Asia.

The people of East Asia have worn masks for a multitude of medical care, cultural and environmental issues since at least the first half of the 20th century. Masks are worn as a courtesy, to avoid applying makeup, to warm up, to avoid attention and communication, and to protect against the sun. They are also worn to protect against pollution (the 100 cities in the world with the worst air pollution are all in Asia), although people may overestimate the protection they offer.

The real turning point, however, came in 2002, with the outbreak of the severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars), which started in China before expanding to Singapore and Taiwan the following year. As a result, the masks gained in popularity, so much so that they became used in everyday life as Fashion Accessories as well as for protection. Could the same also happen in the UK?

How masks became normal in Asia

In several East Asian countries, the high use of masks was prompted by government messages. Because of Sars and bird flu, for example, the Hong Kong government urged people consistently, clearly and frequently to use face masks when exhibiting flu-like symptoms, both to prevent illness and to prepare for other future flu-like epidemics. Warnings were regularly broadcast on television and in train stations.

Meanwhile, in Japan, over the past decades, the government has stress that it is up to every citizen to lead a healthy life. At the beginning of the 2000’s, public health programs and laws were introduced to get people to actively monitor and take care of their own health.

At the time of the 2009 swine flu epidemic, the Japanese government then relied on that sense of personal responsibility to help contain the virus. Campaign posters at the time read: “The spread of influenza must be avoided by everyone! This reflects the sense of duty to act for the “greater good” that exists in many Asian countries, and that manifests itself in people who choose to wear masks if they feel bad so as not to transmit any disease.

Given the previous prevalence of mask wearing in Japan, it is not surprising that mask use was high during the pandemic.
Kimimasa Mayama / EPA-EFE

The success of this tactic may be due to many of these countries – including China and Japan – having what the anthropologist Geert Hofstede defined as “weak individualism”. In these countries, the dominant culture generally favors action in the interest of the group. A strong motivation to adhere to social standards will therefore be influence people to wear masks. The force of this can be so strong that mask wearing movements from being something that targets specific health threats to a general practice, followed daily without a specific goal.

The emergence of brand name masks or masks as fashion statements reflects this. For example, in Japan, what is called “kawaii“The culture is strong. It encompasses a love for anime characters, cute animal mascots, and colorful fashion, and masks have proven to be an easy home for this aesthetic. Masks that have become fashionable can then in turn influence behavior, making them more popular on a daily basis.

Will the same trends emerge in the UK?

In the short term, wearing the British mask is unlikely to mirror that of Japan or Hong Kong. In East Asia, there have been nearly two decades of experience with flu-like epidemics, which has led to repeated messages from the government about mask wearing and personal responsibility. There just hasn’t been the same background in the UK.

There are also cultural differences to consider. Unlike Britain, in Asia wearing a face cover is not only practiced by a large number of people, but is also socially approved and expected, with lower levels of individualism leading to conforming to this standard. Great Britain, on the other hand, much higher scores for individualism. Wearing a mask, now that it is no longer generally compulsory in England, is therefore more likely to be seen as a matter of personal choice.

A sign in a store window:
There is not a broad social consensus in the UK on the need to wear a mask.
Mark Morgan / Alamy Stock Photo

Current government messages in England also emphasize the rights of the individual (the hallmark of the lifting of restrictions as ‘Freedom Day’ being the key example), and thus is in direct contradiction to support. to the greatest social good by wearing a mask.

Indeed, for the anecdote, it does not appear that frequent exposure to people wearing masks – whether on television or in the street – has resulted in the development of a continuous pro-mask attitude and a change. sustainable behavior in the UK, and a third of people indicated that they would not continue to wear masks now that they are no longer required to do so. However, this could change if the wearing of the mask continues to be portrayed as normal in the media, including in fictional contexts – on television and in movies, music videos, etc.

If necessary for a healthier future, continuing to present their use in this way could serve as a way to standardize them, beyond government campaigns. This, however, is not a public health tactic that has been widely tried to date.

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