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Facepalms, facemasks and the spread of STUPID-19

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This story leans on a thesaurus in a bid to find some light relief in what is a depressing subject. All will become clear at the end. That said, why not listen to something upbeat and summery while you read the following? I’d suggest something jaunty like Il Veliero by the Chaplin Band. Its 12 minutes of early-eighties Adriatic yacht disco may take just enough of the edge off the experience that you make it safely to the bottom of the screen.

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One thing I’m sure none of us saw coming when 2020 opened its arms was that the word ‘pivot’ would take such a prominent role in everyday language. Now, it seems everyone has pivoted in some way during the pandemic, forced with the need to look at things anew and find solutions to immediate and pressing challenges.

At the height of lockdown, award-winning restaurants pivoted their kitchens to provide take away food and developed sidelines in pricey groceries for collection. Time Out magazine, the bible for believers in everything London has to offer, pivoted to life indoors. Rebranding itself Time In, the title provided a useful list of online cook-ins, tours of empty museums and locktail mixing tutorials.

Now, as the world gradually opens up (or perhaps closes once more by the time this story finishes and the rules have changed yet again), everyone is pivoting to deal with the shock of the new. Pubs have installed perspex screens and are enforcing one-way routes through areas that were designed for mingling. Table service has become a thing in the average boozer, which is perhaps the most significant cultural shift in the UK since the Norman Conquest.

It’s not only businesses that have pivoted. If we take pivoting to mean a switch in direction — uncomfortable, perhaps, though necessary — then the term might also describe the sacrifices that individuals have made in the crisis. Locked down at home, families and friends could not see each other for weeks, if not months. Couples delayed wedding plans, while Grandparents were only able to see new family arrivals over Zoom. Worse, relatives were unable to comfort loved ones dying of a disease that has resulted in over 50,000 deaths in the UK to date.

While no longer locked down, we are still being asked to make sacrifices. One of these includes wearing a facemask in many places, such as inside shops and supermarkets. Seems reasonable, no?

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Not to the Facemask Refuseniks, it isn’t, a group of people so stubborn they are not pivoting at all in the current climate. If anything, they are doubling down on their usual mental-knuckle dragging efforts to divide us. For this vocal section of people sees itself as libertarians and protectors of our freedom, and they view wearing a piece of cloth over one’s face as a step too far (or a “monstrous imposition” according to one MP).

I have seen the humble piece of blue paper with elastic we are now asked to wear described in all seriousness (sic.) as the first step on an inexorable journey to a dystopia policed by a totalitarian regime. Picture a boot forever stamping on a masked face. Last week a Sunday newspaper columnist decried the “Facemask Nazis” who insist on customers wearing a facemask in a nail bar. This clickbaity whinge was so crass and small-minded it drew criticism from no less than the Auschwitz Memorial and Museum.

Some of the refuseniks have questioned the facemask’s effectiveness. Others seem to fear the facemask more than COVID-19. “What are the long term effects of wearing one?” mused one idiot in a letter to a newspaper last week, ignoring the fact that for nearly 1 in 1000 people in the UK, the long term effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have been, er, DEATH.

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At times it seems there’s another virus in circulation at the moment, and I worry that its reproduction rate is higher than one. It’s the ignoramusvirus, or STUPID-19. A number of superspreaders (I won’t name them, but it’s the usual suspects), seem to be responsible for outbreaks of the disease on Twitter. Whereas COVID-19 emerged in bats, STUPID-19 appears to have developed in the bat-shit crazy.

The symptoms? One sign of infection is the belief that COVID-19 is only ‘the flu’. For many, the disease progresses and they go on to claim that lockdown represents a fundamental restriction on human rights, rather than a rational if disruptive piece of public health policy. Visual signs of the infection include an angry red face and a smug smile. Online giveaways are many, and range from a numbered Twitter handle to English flags in online bios, claims that All Lives Matter, or lengthy rants on the connection between 5G and a mystery illness.

The classic symptom, however, is the refusal to wear a facemask, and the compulsion to share images of their unmasked, crooked-teeth grins on Twitter. For this Brotherhood of the Wrong, the quest to Mordor is simply a Sunday afternoon visit to Aldi without a facemask. A hasty selfie in the fruit and veg aisle and having it out on your toes before security has a quiet but friendly word.

While STUPID-19 infection currently seems confined to mainland UK, a network of infection links back to Russia over social media, while an outbreak of the disease has been seen amongst armed men who have put their games consoles to sleep, left their basements and congregated on the steps of US civic buildings. Closer to home, one individual is leading efforts to sue the UK Government for infringing our rights by implementing lockdown. He lives in Monaco, no less. Where facemasks must be worn outside, natch.

If not already dead, irony is certainly on a ventilator somewhere.

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The facemask refuseniks are the same old vultures who get so worked up by the European Union, statue toppling and the concerns of a generation that quite reasonably wants to know where it is going to live. This time, however, these vultures are literally picking over the bones of the dead in the next phase of their cultural wars.

At a time when everyone has made sacrifices, one stubborn and stupid section of society refuses to entertain a slight inconvenience and wear a facemask as we are allowed out again. Worse, these vultures are using a simple piece of cloth to drive a wedge between people to further their narrow-minded ends.

As individuals, businesses and even the ancient institution that is the English pub have managed to pivot, maybe it’s now time for the facemask refuseniks to pivot also.

Yes, its time for those who refuse to wear a mask to ‘Go Swivel’.

At least I think that’s what my thesaurus says.

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