By Daniel Margrain
The tourism and hospitality industries appear determined to want to die. On 11 August, I booked a summer holiday break to Amsterdam. Two days later after having booked the flight and accommodation, the UK government announced that as from 4am on August 15, people arriving in the UK from the Netherlands and elsewhere would be required to self-isolate for two weeks.
I hastily cancelled and, instead, booked a trip to Hamburg, a port city that I had long wanted to visit. Germany is one among a diminishing number of European countries that remain on the UK governments list of travel corridors.
I opted for a morning flight with the German-based carrier Eurowings departing from Heathrow on September 3. The airport was relaxed. Not a single official challenged me or others for not wearing a mask. Many people wandered around mask free which was very reassuring. This was also the case during the security and check-in procedure.
Mask fascism begins at boarding
The first sign of any potential problem was during boarding. I noticed that everybody queueing in line apart from me was wearing a mask. The chief flight attendant, an immaculately attired man in his mid-forties greeted me with, “Sir you need to wear a mask.” I explained that I was exempt due to a medical condition. He replied abruptly: “You will need to wear a mask. If you do not produce a medical certificate you will not be able to fly with us today.”
I ruffled through my bag for my Ventolin inhaler. “This is not sufficient”, he remarked. He then said he would check with the pilot. After a few moments in the cockpit he returned to confirm that I had to wear a mask. I reached into my pocket, reluctantly put on my unused mask and proceeded to take my seat.
After ten minutes into the air, I ordered a coffee and biscuits. In the knowledge that the virus doesn’t appear to be interested in those who are eating or drinking, I nibbled on my custard creams and sipped on my Nescafe for the remainder of the flight without any further hassle from the flight crew. The same could not be said for another passenger sitting opposite me. While asleep, after having inadvertently letting his mask slip from his face, he was regularly prodded by an over zealous female crew member.
The virus appears to be security conscious because border control officials at Hamburg airport insisted everybody take off their masks while having their passports checked. As I walked the five minute journey to the train terminal I was asked by officials in uniforms on three separate occasions to put on a mask.
Both on the train platform and the train itself, a completely muzzled public stared at me disapprovingly. Matters were to get worse as I entered the foyer of the Barcelo Hotel in the centre of the city. Panic ensued among hotel staff after I committed the cardinal sin of entering the space without the requisite ‘protection’.
A bright orange arrow directed visitors to the check-in counter 10 metres away. As I approached, I was greeted by the less than dulcet tones of a young female staff member with the order: “You need to put on a mask.” I explained that there was no convincing evidence that masks were effective in preventing the spread of the virus and that her curt response was an over-reaction.
Before she had an opportunity to respond, a gaggle of smartly dressed people had gathered. One of them, a male in his mid-thirties stepped forward and said, “Sir, I am the manager and I insist you wear a mask. It is the law here in Germany”, he said. I tried to explain the absurdity of it all but attempts to engage in a rational discussion were impossible.
I reached inside my bag for the mask, held it to my mouth with my hand, checked in and went to my room. After a short nap, I went to the hotel bar, a sterile and unwelcoming space the size of a small concert hall. Guests were clearly viewed as a hindrance, the presumption being that they are bio-hazards to be avoided at all costs.
I hastily returned to my room and flicked through the information booklet. There was no standard buffet breakfast available only an over-priced al a carte which had to be ordered in advance. There was no hotel room service and bar opening times were limited.
I checked out the following morning and found another hotel where these absurd Covid rules were not as rigidly applied. Consequently, guests and staff alike looked happier and more relaxed and the place was far busier.
Elsewhere in the city, Corona anomalies were abound. At every cafe or restaurant table, for example, customers are required to fill out name, personal address and date of birth details. In small bars frequented by hordes of largely chain smoking clientele, makeshift screens have been erected between tables and customers are required to put on their masks when heading for lavatories. It is mandatory to wear a mask upon entering a restaurant, cafe or bar but it is not so the moment you sit down at a table.
Similarly, it is compulsory for passengers to wear masks on the open top deck of public ferries. However, for tourists who are willing to pay 20 euros for a “cruise”, mask-wearing is not a requirement. Apparently, the virus discriminates against ferry-users who are on a budget.
As I stood, mask-free on the open top deck of a public ferry docked at a station on the Elbe river one warm sunny afternoon, I looked around me at the mass of obedient mask-wearers. In the distance I noticed one of these private “cruise” vessels moving towards us. Nobody on the open top deck was wearing a mask.
Call the police
At that moment, I felt a tap on my shoulder from the captain of the vessel who announced to me in no uncertain terms that unless I put on a mask, the public ferry he commandeered would not be moving and he would call the police. I pointed to the “cruise” ferry of non-maskers in the distance and asked the captain if he could explain the contradiction. “It is the law”, he retorted. One passenger lurched towards me in a threatening manner and others were shouting abuse in my direction.
I hastily disembarked from the ferry and as I did so two police cars pulled up alongside the ferry port. I walked away towards a bar in the distance and one of the police cars drove slowly beside me until I reached my destination. My Hamburg experience was hell and I will never return to the city. I was treated as though I was criminal almost everywhere I went.
The tourist industry, as with all other forms of social and cultural life, will die if, we, the public, allow this intolerable mandatory mask-wearing situation to persist. We must always keep in mind that the power the establishment have to insist we conform to unreasonable diktats is determined by the extent to which we consent to them. If the public resist in large enough numbers the political establishment will eventually relent.