To mask or not to mask? That is the question (with apologies to Shakespeare).

To those who want to abandon the wearing of masks – for whatever reason – I would pose a question. Why do surgeons put on masks (and wash their hands) before operating?

It is not, primarily, to protect themselves from catching an infection from the patient (though it does act as a filter if the patient is infected). It is to protect the patient from catching any infection the surgeon may have picked up from contact with other people who may be infected.

Covid is only different from other infectious diseases because it is a new virus, about which we knew little, but are rapidly learning.

All infectious diseases are spread from person to person by being close to one another. With respiratory infections the bacteria or viruses are in the respiratory tract – thus, they are in the air we breathe out, particularly if we cough or sneeze.

It is vital that people realise that they may pick up the bugs without becoming ill (by touch or breathing in the air around other people). They may carry the bacteria or viruses in their breath without knowing it.

But these carriers can pass the infection on to others they meet – again, without knowing it.

The vaccine protects us from becoming seriously ill if we become infected. It does not (so far as we know) stop us from being a carrier and passing it on to others.

There are two reasons why we are being asked to continue to wear masks in places where there are other people, especially in enclosed spaces.

The first is partly to protect ourselves from breathing in the infected air from others.

The second, and more important reason, is to protect others from breathing in the air we breathe out, which may contain the virus without our knowing it.

Although we are now no longer, legally obliged to wear masks in public places, Covid virus is still around in the air we may breathe (if close to someone who is a carrier).

So, it makes sense that we still need to be cautious (the term used by the experts) by protecting both ourselves and others.

Malcolm Morrison

Retired Orthopaedic Surgeon