No doubt there is a difference between gliding through the Palazzo Pisani Moretta in Venice and donning one’s blue surgical mask for a spin on the Northern Line. But there is also an irony in the fact that a symbol of carnival, irreverence and mischief should have its fate so upended as to become – for the perennially suspicious and those breezily dismissive of the virus – a symbol of manipulation by the ‘deep state’ and of capitulation by the weak-willed.
The widespread unease provoked by recommendations to wear masks serves as a useful lens through which to examine the varieties of mistrust that plague our polities. Some argue that they find them uncomfortable; others are sceptical about their efficacy. Others still view them as instruments of government oppression.