When Chancellor Rishi Sunak served katsu curries to Wagamama customers this week, he had his customer service skills up to the task – smiles, little conversations and even diplomatic prowess to sort out the confusion around an order. .
But one thing was missing – there was no mask in sight. Of course, it is not uncommon for a British politician to be seen without a mask. Ministers are rarely spotted with covered faces.
In comparison, their counterparts around the world – from Angela Merkel in Germany to Shinzo Abe in Japan – were photographed in public facing coatings.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson was pictured Friday carrying one to a store in his riding of Uxbridge. It happened the day he said that all buyers in England may soon have to wear face covers in stores.
In England, it is currently compulsory to wear face covers only in public transport and in hospitals, while people are simply asked to wear one in other closed public spaces.
So why don’t more of our politicians wear face covers? And could we soon see more in masks?
Dr. Claudia Pagliari, a psychologist at the University of Edinburgh who specializes in global health, says there are no scientific studies showing what politicians think. But she says it may have been a deliberate decision to avoid masks.
Some politicians may want to give the impression that the coronavirus “does not pose a great threat”. Or in the case of Mr. Sunak’s restaurant cameo, she says they could try to hammer home the message that the country is “open for business.”
“The leaders may be trying to say to their national audience and to the rest of the world:” My country is strong, I am strong “. “
Politicians who are relatively new to their positions, such as Mr. Sunak or Labor Party leader Sir Keir Starmer, may also want to win voters over with their faces.
They want to “be recognized and also want to be seen as communicating with the public,” she said.
However, other politicians came out to wear masks.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock put one on for a visit to a pharmacy last month. Culture secretary Oliver Dowden wore one at the Royal Academy this week – although he followed gallery rules.
Scottish Prime Minister Nicola Sturgeon was pictured on a Scottish face spanning weeks before becoming mandatory in stores. The rules in Scotland are currently more stringent than in England.
And Dr. Pagliari says that gestures, like Ms. Sturgeon’s, are “a sign that you are taking this seriously and that you are complying – and expecting others to do the same.”
There are calls for British authorities to change their face cover policies.
The British Medical Association requested that they be worn “as a matter of course” and the Royal Society – the National Academy of Sciences in the United Kingdom – said that people should wear them each time they leave their homes so to be able to put them on when they enter. a crowded public space.
A Royal Society report found that 71 countries around the world require face covers in all public places and another 15 in all indoor public places. The United Kingdom is not one of them.
Its author, Professor Melinda Mills, of the University of Oxford, says that his international colleagues find it “strange” that face covers are a subject of debate in the United Kingdom.
She says that the Asian countries affected by the severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) epidemic in 2003 have an almost universal mask. “It’s not even a discussion,” she adds.
She thinks there is more resistance to wearing masks, compared to advice on hand washing or social distancing, “because it’s so visual.”
But messy messaging also played a role. In April, the World Health Organization said there was not enough evidence to say that healthy people should wear masks. Last month, he changed his mind.
Professor Mills thinks that the confusion may, in part, explain why many British politicians are not systematically seen there. This in turn leaves the public “confused” and disengaged.
“It gives a mixed message. You see a politician in Scotland wearing a mask, and then the leader in England not wearing a mask, that immediately raises doubts, “she said.
“Whereas if you wear a mask, like politicians in practically every country in the world, you give a clear message and show the public that it is necessary – it protects me, but more and more, more and more more importantly, it protects others. ”
On Friday, Boris Johnson seemed to suggest that a change in policy in the UK was imminent. He said “the balance of scientific opinion seems to have shifted more in favor” of face masks.
“I don’t think we’re going to come to a world where we say everyone has to wear a face cover all the time everywhere,” he said, before adding, “We have to be more strict in insisting that people wear face covers in confined spaces where they meet people they don’t usually meet. ”
He was later photographed wearing a face mask at a store in Uxbridge.
Time will tell if we see more politicians wearing face covers in public places.