EVEN before the decision requiring face coverings to be worn in shops, I was receiving a few emails in favour of such a move, but a much larger number demanding that there be no such compulsion.

Nevertheless, I am never persuaded that counting emails adds up to a representative sample. On the contrary, the opinion polling has been showing a clear lead for compulsory masks. But I know that I spoke for many when opposed this policy in the House of Commons. I was the only dissenter when the announcement was made, and it is important that the significant minority opinion have its voice heard in Parliament.

The subsequent reaction demonstrates that I have tapped into a well of outrage: of some 360 emails I received in the 72 hours following my intervention, 20 were in support of the stance that I took to every one against. Again, I do not pretend that this is a representative sample, but clearly a very significant number of people are angry about being compelled to wear a face covering. Quite a few of the emails were from clinicians who split evenly between those supporting the policy and those opposing it. Some arguing that masks were a danger to health. I am not qualified to intrude on that dispute. What I can confidently say however, is that scientific opinion remains divided.

(I understand that no studies have been done on Covid-19 and masks, and we rely instead on studies based on flu, which are inconclusive).

I possess a mask and I wear it, as required, on the train. Personally, I have no objection to people being strongly encouraged to wear masks, but clearly many people object to being forced to do so, as do I. As I see it, the difficulty is that, having implemented this policy now - when the disease is in abeyance (we have a deficit of deaths: fewer people are dying than the long-term average for this time of year), and we are easing all the other restrictions that have been imposed, how are we ever going to find the circumstance in which we can remove the requirement.

When he was asked this in the Commons, the Secretary of State said we’d have to think about it later. We have discovered that it’s easy enough to impose restrictions but much more difficult to lift them, re-opening schools being an obvious example. I believe this policy on masks was a decision taken with the laudable objective of getting the economy moving. Many of our more wary citizens have yet to be tempted back on to our high streets where their footfall and consumption is desperately needed. The calculation is that they will feel more comfortable and safer if everyone is masked. I hope the government has made the right call, and that it doesn’t have the opposite effect -which was certainly the concern expressed to me by a number of prominent local retailers.

I’ve said before in this column, that in the age of the internet retail has to have ‘a better offer’: it needs to be a pleasant social experience if it is to compete with the convenience of the on-line shopping.

I don’t believe that masks will help, but now that the decision has been made, I really hope that I am wrong about this.