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TO say I’ve been banging on about face coverings for months is no understatement. My interest started after I read what the Czech Republic were doing to suppress the spread of the virus. Pretty much everyone in the Czech Republic wears a face covering. Of course, they had other public health measures for Covid-19 but the public really got behind the idea of protecting each other by wearing homemade masks. Community-minded amateur mask makers hung masks made from a variety of everyday materials up on “mask trees” for free, public figures all started advocating their use, and style gurus and celebrities of the country started sporting masks to match their outfits. Then Austria did it, then Germany, then Spain. When the First Minister added the wearing of face coverings in enclosed public areas to Scottish Government guidance, I was pleased.

In early March I had Covid symptoms and isolated with my husband and daughter for three weeks. With two other family households in the shielding category, I was glad to be feeling well enough to go out and get their shopping for them. My daughter took our first lockdown trip to the supermarket wearing masks that we’d made from the fabric of a hypoallergenic vacuum cleaner bag. I remember a woman in the supermarket muttering “Oh for goodness sakes!” at us in one of the aisles, and we didn’t see anyone else wearing one. We felt a bit embarrassed.

Every time we’ve been out since there has been a slow increase in the wearing of face coverings, but nothing like the volume I would have expected given the public information on how the virus spreads. Then I read an interview in Science Magazine with George Gao, the director of China’s Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, and that’s when I became slightly evangelical. Professor Gao said: “The big mistake in the US and Europe, in my opinion, is that people aren’t wearing masks. Many people have asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic infections. If they are wearing face masks, it can prevent droplets that carry the virus from escaping and infecting others.”

READ MORE: Face coverings to be mandatory in Scotland's shops

It’s fair to say a voluntary and enthusiastic embrace of the face covering didn’t happen in Scotland. Many weeks after that first supermarket trip, and after the First Minister asking for shoppers to wear face coverings, we still weren’t seeing much a shift. When Parliament resumed I noticed it seemed to catch on more in Edinburgh, compared to my home in Aberdeenshire, but the numbers were still low. In the Czech Republic their campaign was helped massively by a Czech author, guru and celebrity Petr Ludwig, who made a series of videos which caught on. I kept waiting for something like that to happen here. Would a bunch of celebrities, or sports people become part of a Masks For All movement here? Would that make people feel less self-conscious about being seen out in public wearing a face covering? Nope, my hopes of seeing Gerry Cinnamon, Kevin Bridges or some Instagram style influencer rocking a face covering and starting a cultural shift weren’t to be realised.

I got on WhatsApp to all my SNP MSP colleagues and got them to send me photos of them in their face coverings. I posted a collage of forty-odd of us but who am I kidding, none of us are Gerry Cinnamon or Kevin Bridges, despite what some of us would like to think! And as for style influencers ... politicians do not fit that bill either.

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The photo did prompt a conversation on social media though, and it seemed like everyone said the variations on two things to me by way of reply to the photo: “I’m fed up of going into the supermarket and being the only one wearing a face covering” and “nice try, but if we don’t make them mandatory folk won’t do it”. Ugh, think mandatory is one of my least favourite words. I wanted a cultural shift, not a diktat!

Then the shops opened this Monday and like everyone else, I saw the scenes. One photo made me feel pretty low about the whole thing, and that was the queue outside Primark in Glasgow where there was one lone elderly woman in a mask flanked by scores of other shoppers without one. One wee lady protecting others around her from her droplets, but nobody was protecting her.

When I wrote to the First Minister this week, I didn’t know what to expect. I’ve a feeling she’s not a fan of the word mandatory either.  I think she’s made the right decision in compelling us to wear them, though. If most of us have to wear face coverings then we’ll take the embarrassment out of it, they’ll be a part of our everyday life, and most crucially they’ll play a part in helping us get back to a normal life with no lockdown and no infections.

Whether your covering is disposable, made from a tea towel, a bandana, is a chi-chi one from an online mask designer, or in your football colours, wear it with pride. We’re all protecting that wee lady in the queue.

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