Life as we knew it, came to a veritable stop when Covid-19 unleashed itself and the world began taking preventative measures – even in the face of devastating economic effects.
Now that more and more businesses are reopening, enforcing government regulations for wearing face masks properly, there is a culture clash creating tension which we need to address.
The World Health Organization has explained that Covid-19, the coronavirus strain currently ravaging the world, can be spread by direct contact with another person by way of coughing, sneezing or speaking. It has now been classed as an airborne transmitted virus too.
The latest South African Government Gazette (Vol. 661) puts into effect the regulation that penalties will be faced by store owners, drivers of public transport, building managers, managers, employers, school principals, and proprietors of early childhood development centres, should they not enforce the rule, which prohibits entry into their premises to people not wearing masks.
Daily global news headlines predating the firm regulation, and amplified prolifically on Twitter, have described verbal sparring between service industry personnel enforcing Covid-19 preventative measures, and face mask-hating rebellious adults consistently throwing public tantrums.
Business Tech (May 2020) reports that globally “since 31 December 2019 and as of 27 June 2020, in excess of 9.93 million cases of Covid-19 have been reported, including in excess of 497 000 deaths, and more than 5.38 million recoveries”.
Face masks may seem like such a vital but trivial thing to be indignant about wearing these days, but the pieces of material are causing a clash of wills all over the world. There are people scoffing at health professionals advice, signs on some storefronts that actually deny entry to people wearing face masks, and even a president (of the free world) spewing polarising rhetoric about the World Health Organization on the severity of Covid-19.
South Africa’s health minister, Dr Zweli Mkhize, has ensured the wearing of face masks is now a law. Regulation 5, which governs the wearing of masks, has been changed to force South Africans to wear them, including in open spaces.
As of today [21 July], the cumulative number of confirmed Covid-19 cases is 373 628. South Africa has had 194 865 recoveries from Covid-19, and a total of 5 173 deaths.
Protecting ones health, and taking steps to help out others against a life-threatening pandemic infection by using what basically amounts to strips of stretchy bands and cloth, does not seem divisive at face value.
However, Lauren Aratani, for The Guardian (May, 2020), writes that “a passionate portion of the US population sees an attack on individual freedom” through the requirement that people wear face masks correctly when engaging the world.
South Africans are not exempt from the face mask culture controversy and warped idea of their freedoms, with more than a few people in and around the Cape, seen flouting social distancing rules as well as the face mask mandate while running errands, or enjoying outdoor workouts.
One of the biggest justifications touted by sections of the community who are anti-masks,is that the wearing of masks infringes their freedom of choice – especially in countries like the USA, where these rights are affirmed in their constitution. This posturing fringe section of the population, though, have failed to acknowledge that their disregard for the health and safety regulations enforced during the Covid-19 pandemic impedes others’ rights and freedoms in how they run their businesses and establishments.
The defiant, non-mask wearing sect can exercise their freedoms, by choosing not to support the businesses who enforce government mandate to wear masks at all times in public. However, when one chooses not to wear a mask in an establishment that requires it, they are then obstructing the rights of the owner, whose will is executed by the staff – thereby creating the exact problem they seek to defiantly expose.
People cannot even excuse their hazardous rebellion by pointing to inadequate face mask options where fitness, in particular, is concerned. As a well-known fitness enthusiast, with a daily Fitness Guide on Kfm 94.5, I have spent a significant amount of time trying out and reviewing fitness face masks during this global pandemic, from various companies like K-Way, AllMySportsSA , Ciovita and First Ascent.
On 567 CapeTalk radio, I tested out a fair few fitness face masks, and broke down exactly what makes them essential for working out.
Ciovita’s Sport Mask, for example, is designed with a polyester mesh outer layer, a hydrophobic mid-layer, and anti-microbial treatment to the mask. K-Way is selling reasonable three-pack general-use fabric masks. These South African-made masks are said to be “made up of a Technical Micro-Active outer layer, a three-ply D15 Filter and a moisture wicking inner layer”.
Glamour Magazine South Africa reports that even the realm of rugby has contributed to the face mask catalogue with the Springbok Class of 1995 launching their own limited-edition supporters face mask sold at Pick n Pay stores nationwide. The official charity of the Springbok team, Chris Burger Petro Jackson Players’ Fund, will be recipient of the Springbok Supporters face mask profits.
Where aesthetics come in to play for some people not keen on wearing face masks can make their own nose and mouth covering, or try out the comfortable Merino wool ones on offer from local brands like Core Merino or ERRE.
Celebrated South African designers have taken up the challenge to bring the necessity of the mask into the functional fashion realm.
Gert-Johan Coetzee, favoured by celebrities like Bonang Matheba for their red carpet event wardrobes, has introduced a limited edition face mask that sparkles, and contains an authentic piece of his fashion house’s history, as well as embodying the brands recent mission to become more sustainable. The online store of the designer, reads that the “limited edition masks are made from fabrics that we used on the runway from previous collections, so this is not just a mask, it is a piece of Gert-Johan Coetzee history. The masks are 3 layers, with an optional slot to insert a filter to make it a four layer.”
Mpho Sekgoanyane, of the Soweto-based bespoke label House of Volt, tells an interesting story of their journey to producing unique masks the market would be consistent in loving and buying.
“We weren’t too sure of the rules of producing and selling face masks… We then moved to our second design, the pleated cloth mask, the same design as the surgical mask but with three layers of fabric. We sold about 60 units but this design wasn’t flying off the shelf. We then moved to the usual mask design, our selling point was the fabric we were using. From African prints, denims, twills, satins, suiting, tweeds, sequins, etc…We moved to the scarf masks around May, as part of the winter range. We included jackets to the range when we reached level 3. We started selling packages. A mask with a matching garment. We also started personalising masks by embroidering client’s name on the mask.”
Luxury womenswear brand Cyla Gonsolves has brought light and soft animal print face masks to the market.
Tintfo Le Tinhle has a 100% black, female-owned concept store in Johannesburg where the fashion, lifestyle, and production house sells masks produced from locally sourced fabric. Founder and creative director Vuyo Dlamini emphasises they are “in line with the specifications issued by the National Health Department”. In their catalogue, one can find the more sporty stretch scuba masks, which can be washed in hot water, dried, and ironed for reuse; They also have single jersey fabric face masks, with customised branding available too.
Sun Goddess is a local fashion house having fun with face mask designs crafted in Tshwane, Gauteng. The brand focuses on people breathing easily while wearing them. The masks are a design innovation from the sourcing effort of the Sun Goddess brand, to the aeronautical engineering inspiration for sculpting, and Industry 4.0 principles governing production. The fashion says the “key to protection is in the mask’s filter. When you breathe with the mask on, air passes through the 3x layers of protection before it reaches your lungs. The performance (density) of each layer matters in the filtering…it is authored to protect against dust allergies, germs, smoke, and other C-19 air pollutants”.
TurnUp Clothing by Olebogeng Thebe is an up-and-coming T-shirt brand which redirected its design efforts to face masks when lockdown hit. Thebe says, “It gave me the chance to sit down and come up with new ideas and designs that I would use to push for business recovery once the lockdown was eased. Not being able to sell clothing during the initial levels of lockdown, I saw an opportunity to also help with Covid-19 prevention through the design of a unique TurnUp face mask which is stylish and comfortable.”
The designer has created reusable TurnUp face masks, which come in two colours (white masks with black print, and another style with the inverse of those colours) and have the brands logo splashed across the easily washable face mask.
Beloved runway-ready afro-chic designer Khosi Nkosi, has everything from African print-framed face shields to patriotic print, and lace covered polyester masks – for kids and adults.
Rich Factory received their permit to trade, and made sure their jacquard print face masks met the safety and aesthetic standards of fashionable locals.
Face masks are also being elevated into high fashion locally and internationally, often with the price tag to match.
Hollywood stars favourite inspired South African knitwear brand Maxhosa by Laduma has a branded three-layered fabric mask of 100% silk, and some of the strongest traditional pattern design adorning the entire face mask, and the price is surprisingly under R1 000 – which is a steal from the design house whose award-winning pieces often run into the tens of thousands of Rands.
Celebrated high-end local designer Rich Mnisi created a now sold-out face mask for his ALKEBULAN collection, which features Swarovski crystals that up the entire wearable arts price tag, to R1 999 ($119). There was an outcry over the price of Rich’s face mask. However, the fine craftsmanship and unique fashion reputation of Mnisi means that the pricey mask makes sense to the market it was actually geared at.
Those based in South Africa at least can therefore profess no lack of face mask options as the reasoning behind their public mask-less delinquency. The need to wear effective face masks (simultaneously fashionable or otherwise) is made even more pressing as necessary behaviour as schools and companies have begun reopening with more people set to congregate in confined spaces, fostering an environment rich with potential infection hazards, regardless of how many hygiene measures are taken (save for hazmat suits).
It is believed that masks themselves are no substitute for hand hygiene and social distancing, so the steady reopening of the economy poses serious worry for health experts. There is worry for the individual’s health, but also their communities; older people and vulnerable ones (like immunocompromised people) at such high risk of not being able to fight through the kind of sickness that would ravage a Covid-19 infected body.
The WHO has already advised that those over the ages of 60, as well as those with health issues, should have a medical-grade face mask to protect themselves when unable to social distance.
A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, titled ‘Identifying airborne transmission as the dominant route for the spread of COVID-19’, has concluded that “wearing of face masks in public corresponds to the most effective means to prevent inter-human transmission, and this inexpensive practice, in conjunction with simultaneous social distancing, quarantine, and contact tracing, represents the most likely fighting opportunity to stop the COVID-19 pandemic”.
One of the nations keeping to such fighting opportunity measures yielding incredible results, is New Zealand. As of today, New Zealand is one of only a handful of countries which has had no new cases reported. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern made no apologies for having the strictest regulations in the world enforced in her country, when she took measures to close the New Zealand borders entirely – to “almost all non-citizens or residents”, according to the BBC’s Anna Jones.
Additionally, there was a commendable amount of public compliance, and effective communication. The country fine-tuned their entire processes to the point where they are currently able to do 10 000 Covid-19 tests a day, as well as being vigilant about tracing contact persons once someone is discovered to have confirmed cases of this coronavirus strain.
There is a push for countries to create and enforce their pandemic prevention measures, keeping the economy and peoples mental health in mind – as even South Africans have been questioning the validity of our lockdown measures, after feeling the crippling economic impact of lockdown.
With so many governing bodies only backtracking on unlocking business operations and stricter social distancing after massive resurgences in Covid-19 infections, it is important to heed the warning made by the director general of WHO, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who says: “The worst is yet to come…With this kind of environment and condition, we fear the worst.”
Liezel van der Westhuizen, is a virtual emcee and digital trainer at The Giraffe Brand Academy. Here, her mission as a personal brand coach is to assist clients to stick their necks out and cultivate their power to stand tall and be unique. This, she believes, is the key to marketplace success.
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