A photograph caught my eye the other day. It showed a young man in London’s Covent Garden brandishing a pint of beer while dancing provocatively in the face of another man wearing a mask. The dancer is not wearing one and he seems to be cajoling the supposedly responsible citizen following Covid-19 safety regulations.
For me, this image encapsulated the divide between those who flout the pandemic restrictions and those who abide by them. It got me thinking about the mindset that allows such maskless revellers to act like this. I wanted to get to the bottom of it.
Rather than lazily express the unchallenged prejudices of a 69-year-old, I sought the views of others – via a simple questionnaire sent by email – across a wide range of ages and occupations. I bent over backwards to catch the views of young people by writing to acquaintances under 30 years of age. In all, I asked about 40 people for their views.
The survey was sent out just as Tier 4 lockdown measures were being implemented. The replies I received were exclusively from people over 60. I didn’t receive one reply from anyone younger, let alone those in their twenties, which is the group largely being accused of these actions. And the questions were not couched in judgemental terms. For example, I made sure I didn’t use the word ‘behaviour’. I did what I could to garner views from a wide demographic range. I failed abysmally.
My cohort of respondents, being fair-minded and intelligent folk on the whole, attempted to analyse the actions of these Covid-19 mockers in a dispassionate way. But they overwhelmingly concluded that the maskless ones had a deep-seated reluctance to obey the rules in the same way that they would occasionally flout parking or speeding rules: they understand that it’s important but if they can get away with it, they will. One respondent suggested that as young children they had never been told they have to do – or can’t do something – so as adults they’re not going to heed to what is required of them, either.
It was also mooted that, allied to this, there is the notion among non-compliers that they see such unquestioningly loyal behaviour as revealing a lack of individuality. The image of the mocking man in Covent Garden even hints that he thinks his rule-abiding counterpart is somehow soppy. The mask shunners are mostly men and, in my experience. mostly white men. Is there, then, a macho element to this? Some thought so.
At bottom, of course, this is a health issue. One might have hoped that the realisation that others’ lives – particularly those within the same family – could be put at risk would put paid to such rule flaunting. Are these people saying in effect: ‘I’m all right, Jack. I won’t die from Covid-19. And if I do contract it, I’ll only get minor symptoms, or none at all’? Everyone thought this was the case. One respondent wondered whether some people think: “Why should I compromise my lifestyle so a bunch of people can live to the age of 83 rather than 82?”
All along, I’ve believed that the UK government has failed to make it clear that many people carrying the virus may not display any symptoms. That, surely, should be one of the decisive factors in dealing with this dreadful disease. Yet it has been largely forgotten in the public consciousness. This amounts to a massive PR failure.
Ignorance is rife, too. A teacher revealed that a colleague had said to him that he was reluctant to receive the vaccine. His rationale was: ‘I’m not ill now, so I don’t need it – and if I end up in hospital, it’s too late anyway.’ He didn’t realise that vaccines are not a cure but a preventative measure. Another commented ruefully: ‘We live in an ignorant and often callous world.’
Does social media encourage these unscrupulous acts? Opinion was divided. But I would argue that the sloppy thinking engendered by rumour and conspiracy theories prevalent on wild west websites and forums foster online anarchy which can lead to anarchic behaviour. People who never leave their echo chambers do not have their blinkered views challenged.
Such articles as this often finish with a platitude such as ‘Nevertheless, most people are obeying the rules’. Well, I bloody well hope they are. Instead, I’m going to hold my hand up and admit that this survey is horribly one-sided. But, given the minimum feedback I got from younger people, it can be nothing else. If I’d received some comments, I’d have read them, considered them and included them here. But I didn’t.