Instant Opinion: why was Britain last to ‘do the right thing’ on face masks?
Your guide to the best columns and commentary on Tuesday 14 July
The Week’s daily round-up highlights the five best opinion pieces from across the British and international media, with excerpts from each.
1. Sean O’Grady in The Independent
on Britain being behind its neighbours... again
Face masks make us all safer. So why was Britain, once again, the last to do the right thing?
“There are downsides to this latest ruling from Boris Johnson that masks must be worn in shops, which are obvious. It makes social interaction weird, and it can feel a bit uncomfortable. But this is trivial compared with the role they play in reducing Covid-19 transmission rates, saving lives and boosting the economy. Like so much in this pandemic, it’s about individuals’ liberties being balanced against the impact on others. You can make your own mind up about the risks you take, but you should not make such judgements on behalf of others. Confidence is the key to restoring economic life: consumer confidence to spend, and business confidence to invest. If people feel safer (and indeed are safer) by wearing masks in shops, on public transport and in other indoor spaces, then the ruling will benefit us all.”
2. Hugo Rifkind in The Times
on stomaching the risk of a commute
What if we don’t want to go back to the office?
“Masks, at any rate, aren’t going to get us back into offices. The question is, will anything? ‘Cultures are formed through shared working, which is in turn the basis of shared values,’ wrote Salma Shah for The Times yesterday, highlighting the eventual cost of us all staying at home. She was right. My trips to the office are to do with my new radio gig... but on a daily, newspaper basis I now work with formerly close colleagues whom I haven’t seen for four months. Our shared values, I hope, linger on but I do wonder whether, had we all always worked like this, they’d have been so easily forged in the first place. A bigger problem is the way that, as soon as vast numbers of people stop leaving the house, going to work and coming back again, often having bought at least a sandwich along the way, huge swathes of our cities simply cease to make any sense. Forgive my Londoncentricism, but parts of the capital paint the problem most starkly. Without tens of thousands of civil servants coming and going en route to Whitehall, Victoria looks like it has been hit by, well, a plague.”
3. Michelle Goldberg in The New York Times
on Donald Trump’s pandemic incompetence
In Some Countries, Normal Life Is Back. Not Here.
“If you’re lucky enough to live in New Zealand, the coronavirus nightmare has been mostly over since June. After more than two weeks with no new cases, the government lifted almost all restrictions that month. The borders are still shut, but inside the country, normal life returned... And America? We had 68,241. As of last week, the worst per capita outbreak on the planet was in Arizona, followed by Florida. The world is closed to us; American passports were once coveted, but now only a few dozen nations will let us in. Lawrence O. Gostin, professor of global health law at Georgetown, told me he doesn’t expect American life to feel truly normal before summer 2022. Two years of our lives, stolen by Donald Trump.”
4. Mark Lowcock, UN under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs, in The Daily Telegraph
on a human tragedy more brutal than Covid’s health impacts
The developing world faces a health, economic and security crisis that will dwarf the impact of Covid
“Economic downturn, rising unemployment and reduced school attendance one year significantly increases the likelihood of civil war the next. Violent conflict drives famine and mass displacement. Based on current forecasts for food insecurity, refugee outflows could increase significantly. These problems might not be immediately apparent the way virus deaths are, but it is not hard to see that they are coming down the track. When they do materialise, it will be hard to explain why we did not act now. We can claim to have been taken by surprise by Covid-19, but we won’t be able to say the same of the development and security crises it is set to trigger. A call for money right now can be a difficult ask. But spending a little money now is a wise investment. It will save lives, protect decades of investment in development, and reduce the scale of the problems in the future.”
5. Dorothy Byrne, editor-at-large at Channel 4, in The Guardian
on showing the truth about our past
We can’t erase outdated TV shows, but we can hold their views to account
“If much-loved characters in the past made homophobic comments or dressed up as people from other ethnic groups or pretended to be people who used wheelchairs, should we destroy that evidence of the social attitudes of the times? Cleaning up our past erases evidence of how views that we would now consider reprehensible were once normalised. Channel 4 is an anti-racist organisation with a particular remit to reach and reflect the lives of people from diverse backgrounds. But we are also committed to freedom of expression and being deliberately daring and controversial. There are bound to be moments when those principles come into conflict. There may be elements in our programmes which are so offensive that a public service broadcaster should not leave them on any platform.”