I visited Taiwan in 2017 and even back then, you’d see the random healthy person wearing a mask while out-and-about doing their thing. The thought there is the opposite of what we have here. In Taiwan, the wearing of face masks is the norm for everyone. It is highly encouraged by health authorities. It is more than just a social courtesy but it is a health precaution for the healthy and not just for those who are ill.
Today, given our Wuhan virus situation, if a person in Asia is seen not wearing a face mask while shopping for groceries, they might be barred rom entry. Shopkeepers and shoppers alike will give you odd stares and perhaps the evil eye. Everyone will carry a face mask or two on their body when they are outside. Wearing a face mask is a duty and a social responsibility for everyone.
Failing to wear a mask is seen as inconsiderate as when we see others who fail to sneeze into their own sleeves and just let the germs fly. Down right disgusting right?I know, it’s bizarre according to our social standards here.
It might be more convenient to sneeze or cough into your own mask than into your own sleeve (if we’re not quick on the draw). It’s happened to me before.
Personally, I haven’t been one for wearing face masks but I’m noticing more people wearing them in public these days. Currently, we are being told during daily local coronavirus news conferences to wear face masks only if you are sick or if you are a frontline worker like a nurse or a doctor.
People in Asia are expected to wear a mask in public at all times and in all places–both adults and children alike. The wearing of masks has almost become a sign of public courtesy.
It heightens our awareness of germs and sends out the message that one is cautious of not spreading or contracting germs. Regardless of whether it’s really effective or not, at the least, it’s seen as a symbolic gesture of social courtesy.
The downside of this in Asia is this. To be seen not wearing a mask comes with a price–a stigma. A person who walks into a store to buy essential services will be viewed as one who exposes themself to others’ germs and/or who exposes their germs to others. That person will not feel welcomes to shop there. They might even be asked to leave. That’s how it is in some places.
Why has it come to this in Asia? Asian people are deadly afraid of the virus. When Asia had the SARS and the MERS outbreak, thousands of people died, it didn’t much affect the rest of the world. The rate of fatality was close to 10% for those who did contract the virus (vs Covid-19’s 1-2%). Asians in Asia have become extremely sensitized to the dangers of sickness through their experience of SARS.
The practice of donning a mask has been carried over from Asia, but we regard this practice as socially unacceptable. It has been deeply socialized in the culture and has nothing to do with whether one has the virus. We really shouldn’t fault Asian in North America for wearing masks in public.
An illustration in point. I saw a story on social media about an Asian person in the U.S. getting harassed and beaten up for wearing a mask in public. Either the attackers had falsely assumed they were sick, or they were just racist and wanted to take their anger out on some random Asian person for bringing the virus into America. I don’t know.
In Asia, some front line workers like doctors and nurses died because they were exposed to the virus. They reported for work knowing the chances of contracting SARS or MERS was high. It was a sense of duty to serve the people. Those nurses and doctors who died were honored as heroes.
Some of us need to change our understanding of wearing face masks in public. We might be seeing a change very shortly. Rumors have it that the CDC has been considering a change in public directives regarding wearing face masks in public. A change might come after production of face masks gets ramped up in the United States. Is there a reason why we are being fed the line that face masks are reserved for frontline workers and the ill only? I think there might be.
From start of the outbreak in Wuhan, China, Asian countries have been taking the Wuhan Coronavirus very seriously. It explains why Taiwan, South Korea, Singapore, Malaysia, and Hong Kong have been successfully in maintaining lower infection rates. Their rates of infection per capita have thus far been relatively low in comparison to that of Italy’s. The wearing of face masks is not the only contributor to their success.
They also do mandatory public temperature/fever screenings at check points, though its reliability is not high. It seems somewhat draconian to have to check everyone. This is done everywhere, at airports, at schools and in some large public spaces.
Public health workers doing temperature screening will wear protective clothing. It gives the impression that the deadly virus could be lurking anywhere and could hit at any moment. It strikes fear in the public psyche. Some might opine that we need to increase this awareness and alertness to the dangers of the coronavirus.
These hardline measures are a stark contrast to our culture where social freedoms and liberties are highly valued and protected. Can we do this kind of thing in Canada and the United States?
Will we get to the point where a wide spread infection of coronavirus will require mandatory or random public check points, and if the donning of masks might become socialized in the western world?