Coronavirus pandemic: To Mask, or not to Mask

Contrary to popular thought, toilet paper is not the new gold. Regardless of the panic hoarding, the world is unlikely to run out of it anytime soon. Facemasks, on the other hand, have been rendered real gold.

 |  5-minute read |   23-03-2020
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It’s Day 7 of quarantine and Fight-468th with my co-confinees. You in India are about to find out how this endless, intimate living with loved ones brings to the surface decades-old unresolved issues (which are, circumstantially, no longer relevant in the world we’re living in, but the irritable me is not in the mood to be rational). However, this piece is not about inner demons having a field day behind closed doors.

There will be enough time and material for that, seeing that I am part of an (un-opted for) indefinite, global live experiment. Instead, let’s discuss what Covid-19 has converted into gold. No, not toilet paper; regardless of the panic hoarding, the world is unlikely to run out of it anytime soon. Incredulous as it may sound to us Indians, professors and experts around the world have studied the psychological effect of seeing the big empty space on the supermarket shelf that drives people, in any disaster, to stockpile the preferred wipe of the western world. One such professor explains – toilet paper takes up so much room on a shelf that it’s much more noticeable than say 50 cans of baked beans or Maggi disappearing. Yet, no one in the world has ever died from not having toilet paper. Besides, if you have a hand, water and soap, you can improvise.

main_koel2_032320093508.jpgThe debate of the facemask seeps into the micro level, starting in my own home. (Photo: Koel Purie Rinchet)

Facemasks, on the other hand, have been rendered real gold. At the beginning of the week, French President Emmanuel Macron reassured a nation, hankering for it, by categorically rejecting the necessity to wear one. Yesterday, the Chief of Emergency at the Pompidou Hospital went on primetime news to claim masks and tests (both far from sufficiently available), could make the difference in stemming this pandemic, as it has in Singapore and Hong Kong. Imagine the effect of his words – a trustworthy source from the frontline tells you that an inexpensive piece of cloth that you’ve paid little attention to in the past, usually available over-the-counter in any pharmacy, is an effective barrier against the war that is threatening to enter your home. But in the times of Covid-19, you cannot buy it anywhere, for any amount of money. So, you’re going to get sick and perhaps die, all because the world was too busy investing in online domination and fortifying its borders to bother fixing our global medical supply chain and spend on healthcare.

main_koel-purie1_032320093026.jpgThere are those imploring the healthy to spare the masks for healthcare professionals, who’re trained to use it, to not get sick while caring for the infected. (Photo: Koel Purie Rinchet)

Necessity turns us all into inventors. A supplier of office chairs stops production and starts manufacturing polyester masks from the fabric for chairs. A seamstress at a small dry cleaner's shop bemoans her lack of knowledge about the material and specifications for making an effective mask. She is besieged with requests from her neighbourhood clientele. Scientists, at the most prestigious labs across France, are working overtime to test which mask would provide the best barrier. China (who claims to be early victors in the war) is sending one million masks to France. ‘Made in China’ to the rescue again!

To my layman's ears, it sounds surreal. Could the conspiracy theories about a biological warfare bear any weight? Let’s say you manage to get your hands on this Chinese gold —  but should you wear it or not? There are those imploring the healthy to spare the masks for healthcare professionals, who’re trained to use it, to not get sick while caring for the infected. If you are sick and wearing one, then you are just breathing your own germs.

However, masks for everyone (and iron-fisted discipline) saved Singapore. The debate of the facemask seeps into the micro level, starting in my own home. My husband (zealously clean, long before it became cool), who always errs on the side of precaution, insists that I wear a mask (he bought them long before they became gold) when I step out for that solo walk that the government permits under strict conditions after I’ve signed the downloadable form. I prefer to keep the one-metre distance should I cross anyone on the abandoned streets. I am about as tactile as a porcupine – anyone closer than 50 metres, at the best of times, is invading my privacy. The virus has doubled that distance as law.

main_koel3_032320093158.jpegTwo and a half people in our deserted neighbourhood come to their windows and balconies to clap and make noise. The moment is hallowed. (Photo: Koel Purie Rinchet)

Hallelujah! My man stands at the door as I’m about to exit holding out the culprit of our fight no. 352, titled ‘who is taking the Coronavirus more seriously’. It’s 8 pm, everything must wait. Two and a half people in our deserted neighbourhood come to their windows and balconies to clap and make noise. The moment is hallowed. I hug my husband and child and wave to my neighbours. Feeling more connected than I have in three years living side by side. We applaud (with all our hearts) the health-workers, scientists and doctors bravely working round the clock to flatten the curve. The real warriors of this war. I add to the list shelf-stackers, grocers, deliverymen and garbage collectors – the brave masked soldiers, making this war bearable.

(Courtesy of Mail Today)

Also read: Winning the war against coronavirus... from home

Writer

Koel Purie Rinchet Koel Purie Rinchet @koelscouch

Professional Attention Seeker. Currently loves and writes in Paris.

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