LET’S start this week with a simple question. Why don’t we as a nation wear face masks? In terms of dealing with the spread of Covid-19, particularly now lockdown is loosening and people are beginning to venture out, we’re in a critical period to keep the virus under control. Face masks are a simple, straightforward way of helping achieve that, and yet as a society, we are choosing not to do so.

The UK, in fact, is right down the international league table on this one, bumping along the bottom along with Australia and Scandinavia. That compares to countries such as Italy and Spain where the wearing of masks is 83.4 per cent and 63.8 per cent accordingly. Even in the US, where the wearing of masks has become a bizarre political argument over infringing freedoms, they’re still being worn by 65.8 per cent of the population.

In the UK, the comparable figures are just 25 per cent. There’s no grand philosophy behind not wearing them – when surveyed on not wearing masks people came back with answers like it made them feel silly, or self-conscious, or was a bit uncomfortable. Which when you think about it feels a peculiarly British response. That protecting yourself – and more importantly, others – is a bit, well, embarrassing.

Britain doesn’t have a great track record when it comes to safety and changing attitudes. Back in the early 1970s, the then Prime Minister Edward Heath looked at the possibility of making seat belts compulsory when driving. For all the scientific evidence showing how injuries from accidents would be reduced, concerns about threats to civil liberties loomed larger. The RAC argued that belts would get dirty and thus stop people from wearing them. A government working group worried about the older population: ‘some old people … would deprive themselves of the pleasure they get from a car outing rather than put up with the nuisance involved in what they regard as an unnecessary, new-fangled idea.’

Today, arguments about seat belts affecting civil liberties feel bizarre. But it took the best part of a decade before wearing seat belts became law. Given that time frame, turning around a nation’s reluctance to wear masks seems a tall order. But even so, it remains a disappointment that the government hasn’t been more proactive on this. Leaving it down to individuals results in situations like the one I found in Tesco the other week, where barring the staff behind the till, I was the only person in the store wearing a face covering.

Yes, face coverings don’t offer 100 per cent protection. But they do help reduce the spread of coronavirus, both for yourself and for others. As lockdown loosens, do remember that, and enjoy those hard-earned freedoms with care.