DOMINIC LAWSON: I got an earful from maskless train staff. Why do rule-setters think they’re immune?


At a rally days before the first Presidential debate, Donald Trump delighted supporters by ridiculing his opponent Joe Biden for wearing a face mask in public: ‘What the hell did he spend all that money on the plastic surgery if he’s going to cover it up?’

Earlier, the President said of the Democrats’ candidate: ‘Every time you see him, he’s got a mask. 

He could be speaking 200 feet away and he shows up with the biggest mask I’ve ever seen.’

So Trump’s political opponents see his rush to hospital with Covid-19 as karma. And they point to an event at the White House a week before he was diagnosed.

At a rally days before the first Presidential debate, Donald Trump delighted supporters by ridiculing his opponent Joe Biden for wearing a face mask in public: ‘What the hell did he spend all that money on the plastic surgery if he’s going to cover it up?’, writes DOMINIC LAWSON

Trump's political opponents see his rush to hospital with Covid-19 as karma. And they point to an event at the White House a week before he was diagnosed

Trump’s political opponents see his rush to hospital with Covid-19 as karma. And they point to an event at the White House a week before he was diagnosed

Photos of the 150-strong gathering (a celebration of the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett as a Supreme Court Justice) show many of the President’s advisers hugger-mugger with each other, maskless — a number of whom have since tested positive for the virus.

As one American commentator wrote: ‘That gathering, as videos and photos of it make clear, violated so many of the recommendations that everyone else has been told to adopt.’

Protect

That observation is familiar to us in the UK, most extraordinarily in the case of the Scottish MP Margaret Ferrier.

In May, she had demanded that the Prime Minister’s adviser Dominic Cummings be sacked for driving with his wife and child from London to isolate in Durham after they had been afflicted with Covid-like symptoms.

Yet Ferrier, even after being told she had tested positive for coronavirus, travelled by public transport all the way from London to Scotland: and she is refusing to resign as an MP.

Scottish MP Margaret Ferrier (pictured) travelled by public transport all the way from London to Scotland even after being told she had tested positive for coronavirus

Scottish MP Margaret Ferrier (pictured) travelled by public transport all the way from London to Scotland even after being told she had tested positive for coronavirus

Last week, we also saw pictures of the Prime Minister’s father, Stanley Johnson, not wearing a mask in a shop, and of Jeremy Corbyn enjoying a dinner with eight other companions at a friend’s home — in breach of the so-called ‘rule of six’ for social gatherings in homes.

I felt some sympathy for the former Labour leader: there’s something horribly sneaky in being shopped in such a way.

But it is inevitable that with so many of the Government’s rules involving constraints on behaviour in the home, there will be many others who will be dobbed in by neighbours for actual or suspected breaches.

The sense that we are being turned into a nation of snoops is not a pleasant one.

Dr Jennie Harries previously said mask-wearing was not a good idea

Dr Jennie Harries previously said mask-wearing was not a good idea

On the other hand, it’s understandable that if one family is diligently observing all the rules, however much disruption it causes to the normal pattern of their lives, they will deeply resent those who behave as if they are above the law — a law which is (however inconsistently or ineffectually) designed to protect the community as a whole from the dangers of infection. 

In the case of masks, the inconsistencies have been legion. 

On March 12, when Covid infections were growing at the fastest rate we have experienced, Dr Jenny Harries, the Deputy Chief Medical Officer for England, declared that the wearing of masks or any other form of face-covering was ‘not a good idea… you can actually trap the virus in the mask and start breathing it in’.

By April, even after Germany’s public health institute recommended that everyone should wear masks when in public, Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, also a Deputy Chief Medical Officer, said: ‘There is no evidence that the general wearing of face masks by the public who are well affects the spread of the disease in our society.’

The trouble is that, unlike the flu, people can be infected with coronavirus but without suffering any symptoms, so can spread it quite obliviously.

This realisation — along with the results of tests which showed that face masks greatly reduce the extent to which droplets are projected, not to mention the simple observation that Far Eastern countries where masks are habitually worn have experienced significantly lower infection rates — led to the current policy of mandatory face coverings in enclosed public spaces such as shops and while travelling on public transport.

Warning

There’s no doubt that it’s an unpleasant obligation to keep a mask on throughout a long train journey. 

I hated having to do it on the five-and-a-half-hour trip from London to Penzance for our holiday.

But when I moaned about it, my elder daughter, who works for the NHS, said: ‘Now you have some idea what it’s like having to wear a tight surgical one throughout your working day’ — which put me in my place.

That was back in August, and the whole business has become much more insistent — and penal — since then. 

At the London mainline stations there are huge posters warning that those not wearing a face covering (‘unless you are exempt’) could be penalised with a fine of up to £3,200.

At the London mainline stations there are huge posters warning that those not wearing a face covering ('unless you are exempt') could be penalised with a fine of up to £3,200

At the London mainline stations there are huge posters warning that those not wearing a face covering (‘unless you are exempt’) could be penalised with a fine of up to £3,200

I was surprised when my wife told me that on her recent train trip from our home in East Sussex to London, the only person in the carriage she noticed not wearing a mask was a man wearing the uniform of Southeastern Railways, writes DOMINIC LAWSON

I was surprised when my wife told me that on her recent train trip from our home in East Sussex to London, the only person in the carriage she noticed not wearing a mask was a man wearing the uniform of Southeastern Railways, writes DOMINIC LAWSON

So I was surprised when my wife told me that on her recent train trip from our home in East Sussex to London, the only person in the carriage she noticed not wearing a mask was a man wearing the uniform of Southeastern Railways.

Last week, I made the same journey. From the start, there were recorded announcements warning passengers to wear face masks, and that ‘the Transport Police’ were ready to take action if anyone was found to be breaching the rule.

I was in the front carriage, and thus could see clearly when two staff members emerged from the driver’s compartment… not wearing masks.

I then watched as they sat down a few tables away from me. 

No masks appeared, and they chatted away to each other even as the ‘mask warnings’ continued intermittently in recorded announcements and in a liquid crystal written display on a continual loop above their heads.

Hypocrisy

I don’t consider myself a busybody; but I found the hypocrisy of this increasingly irksome. 

So I got up from my seat and suggested to the two railwaymen that perhaps they should follow the instructions given to their passengers and consider setting an example.

This did not go down well. The larger of them, a middle aged and somewhat overweight chap, declared he was ‘exempt’—and became irate when I asked if he could provide a document in evidence of that.

When I asked his colleague if he, too, was ‘exempt’, he quietly admitted he wasn’t. 

Then the larger one, getting a little red in the face, said: ‘You wouldn’t challenge a disabled person like this.’

Last week, we also saw pictures of the Prime Minister's father, Stanley Johnson, not wearing a mask in a shop

Last week, we also saw pictures of the Prime Minister’s father, Stanley Johnson, not wearing a mask in a shop

When I replied that I didn’t see how he could know that, he told me I was ‘a stupid, ignorant pig’ and that if I didn’t return to my seat, he would have me ‘thrown off the train at the next station.’

I decided not to test him on this. Although I did notice that when he got off the train, two stops later, he immediately put on a mask. 

But by then he was in full view of large numbers of people, not to mention station security cameras.

It turns out that this is not unique to some members of staff on the London to Hastings line: after mentioning the incident to a friend, he sent me a number of tweets from people on other lines who had taken pictures on their smartphone of travelling staff not wearing the masks they tell the rest of us to put on, or else.

Another friend said: ‘It’s the management’s fault. They are terrified of the rail unions, and so would never dare to challenge them on this.’

Whatever the reason, it only adds to the impression the public have that those involved in enforcing the rules seem to think that they have some special immunity and don’t need to bother (even if it risks the health of others).

To be fair to Donald Trump, at least he isn’t a hypocrite: he always made fun of mask-wearing. But perhaps he’ll be less inclined to do so in future.

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