THE CULTURAL TIGHTROPE
RIGHTS OR RESPONSIBILITY?
YOU WOULD’VE THOUGHT THIS REGULATION HAD ALREADY BEEN PHASED OUT MANY PEOPLE SEEMINGLY VIEW IT AS AN INFRINGEMENT OF THEIR PERSONAL RIGHTS
Good news! I read this week that a Spanish cabinet meeting on February 7 will approve lifting the face mask mandate on public transport, which has been compulsory since the spring of 2020. According to the website catalannews.com, “Spanish health minister Carolina Darias announced that she would propose to the public health Interterritorial Council meeting that the measure be scrapped.” Poor syntax aside, this announcement came the day after the head of Spain’s Center for the Coordination of Health Alerts and Emergencies, Fernando Simón, said: “The situation in China during these last weeks has complicated the decision, but it will be [lifted] soon, either next week or the following one,” before adding that experts believe the current epidemiological situation to be “very stable”.
Just one thing about that though… what face mask mandate? I can’t speak for other places, but if you live in Barcelona, you would’ve thought this regulation had already been phased out some months ago. Well, on the Metro at least. It’s true that if you travel by bus, not only does everyone still wear a face mask, but bus drivers may even stop the bus to demand that people wear one. In fact, on a trip back to town on the airport bus I recently witnessed a driver shouting at some bemused looking tourists in English: “Put the mask! It’s not difficult!” Again, forgive the poor English.
But the Metro? On a recent journey up to the football ground located near the Ronda de Dalt where my son and I play every week, the ratio of mask wearers to – what shall we call them? Mask objectors? Yes, let’s go with that – was around one to ten.
Personally, I’ve never been a mask objector, but I know plenty of people who are, and judging by the aforementioned Metro data collection, albeit based on a very small sample, it would seem that I’m now in the vast minority. However, since the moment I understood that by wearing a mask in closed spaces I might be saving someone’s grandparent’s or parent’s life, it became a bit of a no-brainer for me from a humanitarian standpoint.
And because it was such an obvious sacrifice for me to make personally, I’ve found it very difficult to understand why other people would refuse to comply with the regulation, with many – especially younger – people seemingly viewing it as an infringement of their personal rights and freedoms. Simply put, wearing a mask to save the spreading of a deadly virus doesn’t really seem to have much to do with rights and freedoms to my mind, more to do with personal responsibility.
In terms of making cultural comparisons, which is the basic remit of this column, UK government data reveal that around one in five adults (22%) used a face covering when outside their home from 21 December 2022 to 8 January 2023, although those who used a face covering did not necessarily use it always or often. And I would say that on my recent visits to the UK, attitudes towards mask-wearing have very much echoed what I have seen here in Barcelona , with both cultures happy to thumb their noses at the idea of wearing one. So it’s a bloody good job we don’t need them any more then, isn’t it?