The coronavirus crisis has affected my adopted homeland of Portugal just the same as most other countries, especially as we are so close to Spain, one of the hardest hit by the coronavirus. While I’m from the UK, I’ve lived in southern Europe for the last eight years.
We were one of the first countries to go into lockdown with only essential shops open for business. As I live in the countryside on the Camino de Santiago and have a dog, I was fortunate to be able to take a walk whenever I wanted. Life was a little quiet, but I guess I didn’t feel hemmed in the way so many have felt, especially those who dwell in the city.
At first, we weren’t ordered to wear face masks, but I took to wearing a light cotton scarf which served as a mask, if and when I needed one.
On the day that the lockdown ended and non-essential businesses opened for the first time, I went into town to shop for food and other items I’d not been able to purchase during the lockdown.
As I pulled up on my bicycle outside of the supermarket, the security guard stopped me and said, “Mascara!” It’s fair to say I was a little confused as, for a brief moment, I thought he was telling me I had to wear mascara if I wanted to shop in the store. I was about to protest such a silly rule until I remembered that “mascara” was the Portuguese word for mask.
Yes, it had escaped my attention that the Portuguese government had decreed that the good citizens of Portugal would have to wear a mask in public from now on. Which means that we can’t use scarfs or bandanas as a shield. We have to wear masks by law.
So off I went to buy a mask so that I could return and do my shopping. From the moment I put the mask on, I felt a deep sense of discomfort as a feeling of claustrophobia came over me. This may sound a little strange, I know, but I felt like a handmaid from the television series of the same name. I guess the mask reminded me of the masks worn by the handmaids in season 3.
I saw a female friend later in the day and told her how I felt. She agreed that she felt the same. In the western world, we aren’t accustomed to covering our face, and the whole notion of doing so goes completely against our culture and comfort.
Yet, I wear my mask every time, no matter how uncomfortable it makes me feel, and I will continue to do so for as long as is needed until we defeat the coronavirus. Each time that we choose to wear a mask, we are helping to prevent the spread of a virus that has killed hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people. We are saving lives.
Which is why I am completely baffled by the approach of some people in the UK and USA who are refusing to wear a mask or practice social distancing, especially those who feel that their governments or health authorities are unfairly dictating what they should and shouldn’t do. I can tell you. The people of Portugal have no hesitation in wearing a mask in public for one reason. They save lives. It’s that simple.
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We have yet to see the coronavirus finish its killing spree with the threat of a second wave on the horizon. A second wave is more likely to hit if people refuse to help curb the spread of the virus now. The people who refuse to wear a mask are putting vulnerable people in danger.
It’s okay to feel uncomfortable wearing a mask. I do. I will never get used to the feeling of suffocation and look forward to the day when I can throw my mask away. But I will wear the mask, whenever I need to because It’s not okay to put people at risk of illness and death by refusing to wear a mask.
This is not the time to be mavericks and use this issue to defy our governments or health authorities. There are plenty of valid social issues to stand up and fight for. The issue of whether we should or shouldn’t have to wear a mask shouldn’t be one of them. It’s time to protect ourselves and each other.
Let´s keep safe, my friends, and be grateful that we are not to forced to cover our faces all the time. Let´s protect ourselves and each other to put an end to the coronavirus so that we don’t need to wear masks in the future.
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(c) Samantha Wilson 2020. All Rights Reserved.