I have a couple of questions for you. Firstly, should you have to wear a mask to go shopping given we are in the middle of a pandemic?

And secondly, what constitutes an ‘essential’ reason for leaving your home during lockdown and just where is local?

Let’s deal with masks first, shall we?

Back in January last year, just as news about Covid-19 was starting to work its way into public consciousness, I was working in Manchester and commuting by train.

At the time, this strange, new disease seemed to be only a problem for China and the Far East, and yet I was struck at the time at the number of people I saw at Piccadilly Station who were wearing masks.

Unsurprisingly, the vast majority of those were Asian.

And that’s because Asians, especially in Japan, China and Taiwan, have worn masks for cultural and environmental reasons, including non-medical ones, since at least the 1950s. The Japanese traditionally wear masks when feeling sick as a courtesy to stop any sneezes from landing on other people.

But the explosion in mask wearing came in parts of Asia after the severe, deadly outbreak of acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) that started in China in 2002 before spreading to Singapore and Taiwan over the following year.

It’s no coincidence that those countries scarred by the SARS outbreak were far better prepared – and have fared much better – than western countries who tried to deal with the pandemic as though it was a type of flu. Just look up the number of coronavirus deaths in Singapore, Malaysia and Taiwan.

In this country, we have no real history of mask wearing although you can find pictures of masked people during the 1918-20 Spanish Flu pandemic and of the ‘Great Smogs’ of the 1950s.

But I think it’s possible to trace the reason for the confusion over mask wearing in this country to the early stages of the pandemic and the mixed-messaging that emanated from the government and its medical experts.

When it became obvious that Covid-19 wasn’t flu, the worldwide demand for PPE skyrocketed and it also quickly became obvious that our pandemic stockpile of medical supplies was woefully inadequate.

There were fears that if the demand for medical-grade masks suddenly spiked because of public demand, it would leave the NHS even shorter of supplies than it was. So the government deflected and said the efficacy of masks wasn’t proven, and worse, could contribute to the spread of the disease if people kept on touching ‘dirty’ masks.

And that message stuck, a least with a proportion of the anti-maskers who still trot out the tired old trope as a reason for not wearing a mask.

Of course, as science progressed and the understanding of how the disease spreads grew, the World Health Organization was very clear in its advice: “WHO advises that the general public should wear a non-medical mask in indoor (eg.shops, shared workplaces, schools) or outdoor settings where physical distancing of at least one metre cannot be maintained.

“If indoors, unless ventilation has been been assessed to be adequate, WHO advises that the general public should wear a non-medical mask, regardless of whether physical distancing of at least one metre can be maintained.”

Refusing to wear a mask in shops, on trains or in a crowd isn’t a political statement, it isn’t a badge of honour, it isn’t you protesting against the global conspiracy to control you. What it says about you is that you are a selfish human being and probably more than a little bit stupid.

So well done to supermarket chains Sainsbury’s and Morrisons for finally refusing access to people not wearing masks. Better late than never.

So to my second question. What constitutes an ‘essential’ reason to be out of your house during lockdown and what counts as local?

According to the government’s website, you should stay at home unless it’s to: Shop for basic necessities, for you or a vulnerable person; go to work, or provide voluntary or charitable services, if you cannot reasonably do so from home; exercise with your household (or support bubble) or one other person (in which case you should stay two metres apart). Exercise should be limited to once per day, and you should not travel outside your local area; meet your support bubble or childcare bubble where necessary, but only if you are legally permitted to form one; seek medical assistance or avoid injury, illness or risk of harm (including domestic abuse); attend education or childcare – for those eligible.

That sort of sounds pretty clear, so while I don’t really like the idea of people snitching on others, it seems fairly obvious that travelling to Acton Bridge station to do a bit of trainspotting doesn’t count as being essential.

But defining ‘local’ does seem to be a little problematic. Driving five miles to a quiet beauty spot to exercise with one other person was originally designated as illegal by the ever-zealous Derbyshire Police, yet travelling seven miles to exercise in the Olympic Park in London is to be praised. Well it helps, I suppose, if you are the Prime Minister.