Masks act as a crude reminder that danger is all around, that we are all potential biohazards. So, on a common-sense level, continued wearing of them will exacerbate anxieties rather than reduce them. But there is another, less obvious reason why the continued use of face coverings is counterproductive as a means of promoting confidence and encouraging people to return to normality: masks will act as a “safety behaviour” that will prevent disconfirmation of anxious beliefs.
For a virus that spreads via airborne transmission of aerosols—something scientists have known for many months, though it took the World Health Organization until the end of April to update its guidance—these plastic barriers between diners were always a confusing addition. Think of the particles that disperse through the air when someone smokes a cigarette. A plastic barrier wouldn’t prevent you from smelling that cigarette and breathing some of that same air.
Watson’s response to the easing of lockdown is not all that uncommon, say psychologists. It is not yet known how many people will be affected by residual Covid anxiety after vaccination, but it’s feared a significant minority will struggle to readjust, especially as increased unlocking allows for large groups and big, crowded events to take place again.