Whether it’s COVID-19, SARS, or H1N1, a virus outbreak often drives the general public to take measures to protect themselves. This is most visible in many Asian countries, where it’s common to see people wearing masks in public. However, this practice is almost unheard-of in many Western countries.
The use of surgical masks in public likely began in Japan. When the Spanish flu struck the country in 1918, people began wearing masks to try to avoid becoming sick, a practice that would continue during future influenza outbreaks. As Japan industrialized, its development led to increased air pollution, and mask wearing among the population also increased as a protective measure. Over the years, Japanese people began wearing masks more frequently, and other Asian countries later followed suit.
In many Asian countries, masks are seen as an important way to prevent illness, and people with colds are encouraged to wear them to prevent others from getting sick. Furthermore, some people with allergies to pollen or dust feel that wearing masks helps them breathe better. Besides these practical reasons, masks have also become a fashion accessory. Some people like the mysterious look masks give them, while others enjoy the sense of privacy they provide in public.