Many defend wearing them, others claim they next to useless, even that they are dangerous. As Portugal relaxes the obligation to use a masks in closed areas such as shops etc, its seems appropriate to look at the facts.

The Portuguese people are very good at keeping within the rules, foreigners, especially the English seem to object and refuse to conform. Why is a mystery, mask are for the protection of yourself and other around you, a fact which is hotly disputed by some.

At last, take your mask off

As of Friday (22nd April) the DGS (health department) changed the rules regarding the wearing of masks. Students, teachers and staff no longer have to wear masks for their return to school for the new term. Now we only have to wear masks in health establishments, such as hospitals and clinics, care homes and on public transport.

If you were against wearing a mask, consider this. If you were admitted to hospital for surgery, how would you feel if none of the surgeons, anaesthetist are even the nurses were wearing a mask? Would you be ok with that, or would you protest? Would you insist that they went and got their masks before they operated? They wear a mask to protect their patients, you should wear a mask to protect those around you. Perhaps the surgeon would tell you that wearing a mask was impacting their personal freedom. I wonder what your answer would be to that!

Sometimes we did forget

I have personally found that if you go into a shop or supermarket and forget to put on your mask, you are very politely requested to put on your mask. Most people are happy to do so and apologise. Let’s face it, we have all done it. Now you don’t have to wear a mask.

Some people compromised with a cloth mask, frequently with advertising on them. Cloth masks provide less protection according to most health authorities. They say that you should wear the most protective mask possible that you'll wear regularly, fits well and is comfortable. Respirators such as nonsurgical N95s give the most protection. KN95s and medical masks provide the next highest level of protection.

The universally respected New York Mayo Clinic say, face masks combined with other preventive measures, such as getting vaccinated, frequent hand-washing and physical distancing, can help slow the spread of the virus that causes Covid-19

A cloth mask offers the least protection

Whatever you do, don't rely on a fabric mask alone anymore. They're good at protecting others from your respiratory droplets, but not at protecting you against theirs, even with a filter pocket. A cloth face mask is better than no mask at all. It helps protect others if you sneeze or cough -- but it's less effective than the disposable version especially because many people don't wash their cloth masks often. If you use a cloth mask, when did you last wash it? You can’t use a fabric mask in a hospital.

The European Safety Federation say ‘There is a lot of confusion in Europe about masks. There are different types of masks and it is important to understand the function of the different types and what the user can expect from these masks. In the EU we also have different legal requirements depending on the function of the mask’.

Confusing situation

You can’t dispute that there is a lot of confusion. The UK has dropped the obligatory use of masks, but its noticeable that Covid infections have dramatically increased since that happened. Many people are almost certainly going to argue that this was inevitable, but that it will lead to herd immunity.

According to the latest figures from Johns Hopkins University, France has the highest rate of infection. Portugal and the UK have very similar rates of infection, Spain less than both. All have different policies towards the wearing a masks. Where is the logic in that? Will the infection rate change now we don’t need to wear a mask?

Don’t distort the science

The most promoted category of anti-mask arguments is the most insidious one: distorting the science. A common justification is that Covid-19 is simply no worse than the flu; this is clearly not true. Some anti-mask protesters have even said that masks impair breathing, a claim debunked by most physicians.

Another reason many people refused to wear a mask can be motivated by the belief that personal freedom is paramount. Some people claim not to be against masks per se but against governments (and sometimes businesses) mandating their adoption. If you pursue this argument, you should also refuse to stop at a red traffic light, or to keep to speed limits, that’s impairing your personal freedom as well.

A mask is to protect others

Many studies have shown masks protect against Covid. While N95 respirators offer the greatest protection, even cloth masks are beneficial. N95s respirators lower the odds of testing positive to COVID by 83%, compared with 66% for surgical masks and 56% for cloth masks.

The protection when everyone wears a mask is much greater, because it reduces the likelihood of well people inhaling the virus and prevents infected people from exhaling the virus into the air. If everyone wears a mask, the viral load in the air is much lower. Now you have a choice, but be sensible, especially if you have a cold or flu.

I don’t think any of us actually liked wearing a mask, they are uncomfortable, they make your glasses steam up, they do impair your breathing and clarity of speech a little.

The reality is that we should wear a mask when appropriate in order to protect others. Dare I say, was it rather selfish to refuse to wear one?

If you don’t agree with me, and many don’t, there is the option to comment and disagree at the bottom of the article. No bad language please, however strongly you feel.


Resident in Portugal for 50 years, publishing and writing about Portugal since 1977. Privileged to have seen, firsthand, Portugal progress from a dictatorship (1974) into a stable democracy. 

Paul Luckman