'Should we intervene if someone is not wearing a mask on a train?' Comment by Wellesbourne writer after his experience on public transport

Former journalist Peter Bowen discusses a dilemma facing many people on public transport

Tuesday, 27th July 2021, 12:21 pm
Should we intervene if someone is not wearing a mask on a train?

Peter Bowen 83, is a retired journalist who writes a regular column for The Courier and Weekly News. This week, he talks about his experience on a train - and whether he should have spoken up about people not wearing masks.

Four middle aged men sitting opposite me on a busy train had no face covering but masks were hanging loosely around their necks. A mother and teenage daughter, both wearing masks, were obviously uncomfortable. There were two other children in the family group.

The men were friends, talking together and enjoying each other’s company. Approached by the mother, they were asked politely if they would put their masks on properly for sake of themselves and other people. Just as politely, one of the men said they had their masks on and continued with their conversation.

Faced with the dilemma of what to do next, whether to stand her ground and protect her family, or take the men on, the concerned mother wisely chose to get back to her seat. It was a difficult situation. The Government expects and recommends masks should be worn on public transport.

My first thought was to jump to my feet and tell those selfish men to do exactly as the lady said and put their masks on properly, assuming I would get support from other passengers. Although doubly vaccinated, I too felt vulnerable because with this Delta variant there is no absolute guarantee of immunity from infection.

Fortunately, my travelling companion had the good sense to point out that at 83 years young I was in no position to take on a group of younger men over the issue. I had no hope of winning the battle and could get hurt in the process.

He then suggested I looked around me: shocked, I realised that 50 per cent of the passengers around me were not wearing masks in the packed carriage on a very hot day. I was wrong to expect any help from the majority of my fellow passengers when supporting the mother. However, on reflection, I did not feel too good about the situation. I felt guilty because I did not take action to help the woman.

What should one do faced with the dilemma of whether or not, to call out offenders? It is a difficult question that at some time or other will affect us all. The implications could be far reaching as it is not certain whether the law would be on the complainant’s side in any confrontation as it applies differently on public transport from city to city.

I still feel that I should have spoken out but for many it is not that simple. A friend told me at the weekend that he has had his two jabs and felt comparatively safe outside but worried about the situation where he worked. Several of his colleagues had declared quite openly they were not getting vaccinated. “I am not happy about that. It is awkward. I am concerned for myself, my family and other colleagues in the office but I’m not sure making a fuss would do me any favours,” he admitted.

It takes courage to speak out about wrong doing and the chances are that today anyone displaying that courage will be abused on the spot, condemned and vilified via social media. But we must go on challenging wrong-doing. To do nothing is shameful. There are majors issues regarding poverty, race and colour where the good must take a stand to force changes and overcome prejudice.

The relaxation of rules on social distancing and wearing masks was always a gamble. Following pressure from his chums in the party and business, the Prime Minister put the economy before public health saying from now on we should all take responsibility for our own health and welfare.

I note in his July 19 statement there was no longer any emphasis “on saving lives and protecting the NHS” by the Prime Minister. The figures for the Delta variant are never-the-less worrying. More than half-a-million people got pinged last week because they had come into contact with someone who had tested positive, a record.

I am not sure how this relaxation of restrictions will work as the selfish and irresponsible in our society will always be irresponsible, leading to fewer vaccinations and fewer people wearing masks. Figures for the Delta variant are fluctuating, rising alarmingly for several days and then dropping. It could be the hot weather. No-one really knows why this should happen. Only when the data is available in two weeks will we know whether the new “freedom” policy has worked effectively.