One the most recognisable symbols of the Covid-19 pandemic is the face mask.
While the pandemic is not quite over yet, we’ve come a long way since the days of stay-at-home orders and social distancing.
On September 28, the UAE’s crisis authority dropped the mandatory use of face masks in most public indoor spaces with the exception of places of worship, hospitals and public transport.
For more than two years, face coverings were beginning to feel like a part of normal life. In fact, my partner and I made sure we stocked up on enough masks for our outings by ensuring we always had at least one box in the car and one box at home. I believe they also played a big role in both of us never having tested positive for Covid.
When it was announced they would no longer be needed as much, I'll admit we did feel a bit of joy at the news because it seemed like we were one step closer to returning to life as it was before the pandemic. Sometimes it still feels strange to be walking into a mall or restaurant without one, as if something is missing from my own face. With that said, here are three things I will miss and three I won’t miss about wearing them.
- I’ll miss not having to worry about chapped lips, pimples or bad breath. OK, this is a bit superficial but knowing that no one could see the bottom part of my face had some benefits, including when I knew I wasn’t looking or feeling my best.
- I won’t miss not knowing who someone was because I couldn’t see their entire face. In the past two years I’ve not recognised someone I know because they were wearing a face covering. No more awkwardly staring at someone for way too long trying to figure it out.
- I’ll miss not having something to stop me from touching my face. Whether it’s stress induced or out of habit, I used to touch my face a lot. This was never a good idea considering the bacteria, dirt and oil we have on our hands. I also used to be a chronic nail biter, but wearing a mask helped me to completely stop the bad habit early in the pandemic.
- I won’t miss being unable, sometimes, to hear people properly. This was made apparent during Zoom conference calls when people in a room would be wearing them while speaking and I’d have great difficulty in hearing what they were saying.
- I’ll miss the safety I felt while wearing it. As social distancing norms have moved on, any time I’m in a cramped elevator or enclosed space, I’ll admit I still wince when some maskless person coughs or sneezes near me. While I’m still careful about other hygienic measures, such as handwashing, the wearing of a face mask just made me feel better.
- I won’t miss how divided everyone was when it came to wearing one. I’m not sure exactly at what moment during the pandemic face masks became such a heated debate, but I’m glad now people have calmed down over it. Although face masks have been worn in Asian countries since before the pandemic as a courtesy to prevent others from catching sicknesses, I don't think I'll ever understand why that same selfless gesture didn't catch on.
So while some people are probably welcoming the new rules of no longer needing to wear face masks in the UAE, I'm very grateful for the things it did and how it kept me safe for the past two and a half years. I'll probably continue wearing them on a case-by-case basis because, if the pandemic taught me anything, it's that we really need to do our part in looking out for each other — even if it means wearing a face mask when no one else is.
Scroll the gallery below to see photos of the UAE after masks were no longer required in indoor spaces.