Opinion | Masking is Our of Showing Kindness to Others

A ‘memory’ popped up on my Facebook feed the other morning. It was a tweet I had shared one year earlier - in the winter of 2021 - when, while we were all still very much in the midst of Covid and the new Omicron strain, we were also already totally bored with this global pandemic.

It was a tweet that reminded us that long before the coronavirus, people in many Asian countries were already well practiced at wearing face masks during cold and flu season, this was to protect fellow citizens from getting sick, a way to show thought for someone beyond one’s self.

In the tweet, Risa Hoshino MD expressed that she never understood why masks are so stigmatising in the U.S because in her home-country of Japan, people have been regularly masking since before the pandemic.

“ – when feeling a tickle in our throats, during flu season, on a crowded train etc. Masking is our way of showing kindness to others.”

I know we’re well and truly over Covid, others have already written about pandemic apathy and the ‘Boring Apocalypse’. We just want to go back to the “way things were”!

But things will probably never be the way they were. This pandemic has fundamentally changed crucial aspects of life forever.

Why can’t one of those changes that continues be the empathy we felt back in early 2020?

Remember when people were clapping for front line workers, when people put teddy bears in their windows, were patient with businesses when things weren’t perfect, or service was slow… remember then?

Otago University epidemiologist Michael Baker has urged the government to toughen up on mask policy, noting that right now, New Zealanders need to mask up more, not less.

"We need a huge shift in thinking if we're going to keep on top of this virus," he said.

Baker said Omicron, and particularly its more infectious new sub-variants, were "very good" at escaping the immunity offered by both past infections and vaccines.

"So, I think more than ever we need to rely on masks."

And if not to stop yourself from getting sick, then for your fellow Kiwis. Think of your mask as a beacon that says, ‘I’m thinking of those more vulnerable than me.’ And when you see someone else wearing one, smile beneath your own knowing that masking is our way of showing kindness to others.

By Sophie Procter