The Daily Star has printed a cut-out-and-keep Dominic Cummings mask on its front page with a pledge that it will allow the wearer to “do whatever the hell you want”, as part of the tabloid’s idiosyncratic response to the scandal involving the prime minister’s chief aide.
The Star – which tends to avoid politics stories and last year proudly declared itself a Brexit-free newspaper – told readers: “Can’t be arsed to stick to the rules like the rest of us? Simply wear this handy Dom face covering and you’ll get away with murder.”
The newspaper also included a “Thought for the day” bubble that reads “imagine having to defend this bloke on TV with a straight face” after further questions about the aide’s decision to undertake a 60-mile round trip from Durham to Barnard Castle to test his eyesight was good enough to drive.
The front page also included a picture of the singer Stevie Wonder commenting on the story, which was justified by the line: “Police have warned people not to copy PM’s aide Dominic Cummings by driving to check your eyesight, especially if you have vision problems like singer Stevie Wonder.”
Boris Johnson’s decision to back Cummings in the face of a media onslaught can be seen as a test of the power of newspapers to set the agenda.
The Daily Mail issued a front-page call for the aide to be sacked, a move that would have been career-ending in the past but which Boris Johnson has felt able to ignore, despite his plummeting personal ratings during the crisis.
The World Health Organization (WHO) guidance on face masks has remained consistent during the coronavirus pandemic. It has stuck to the line that masks are for healthcare workers – not the public.
“Wearing a medical mask is one of the prevention measures that can limit the spread of certain respiratory viral diseases, including Covid-19. However, the use of a mask alone is insufficient to provide an adequate level of protection, and other measures should also be adopted,” the WHO has stated.
Nevertheless, as some countries have eased lockdown conditions, they have been making it mandatory to wear face coverings outside, as a way of trying to inhibit spread of the virus. This is in the belief that the face covering will prevent people who cough and sneeze ejecting the virus any great distance.
There is no robust scientific evidence – in the form of trials – that ordinary masks block the virus from infecting people who wear them. There is also concerns the public will not understand how to use a mask properly, and may get infected if they come into contact with the virus when they take it off and then touch their faces.
Also underlying the WHO’s concerns is the shortage of high-quality protective masks for frontline healthcare workers.
Nevertheless, masks do have a role when used by people who are already infected. It is accepted that they can block transmission to other people. Given that many people with Covid-19 do not show any symptoms for the first days after they are infected, masks clearly have a potential role to play, especially on crowded public transport as people return to work.
Sarah Boseley Health editor
The Daily Star front page was shared widely on social media and will also benefit from being displayed prominently near checkouts in supermarkets and shops across the UK. Sales of the newspaper have been hit hard during the pandemic, dipping by a quarter to an average of 219,275 copies a day.
In recent months, the Star – which is owned by the same company as the Daily Mirror and Daily Express – has increasingly indulged in many of the classic tropes of British tabloid reporting, with front-page stories about giant lobsters, gull attacks and rat infestations.
Last year, it became the last tabloid to drop the Page 3 girl feature, although some staff privately expressed sadness that it took several days before reporters at rival outlets noticed they had done so.
It recently declared itself to be the favourite newspaper of Prince Harry and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, after the duo failed – or forgot – to include the outlet on their list of British tabloids they would no longer speak to.