“When you have a Chinese face and wear a face mask, the chance that people just briefly walking past you start to spit increased!” complains Yiting, a woman who has been living in Norway for fifteen years.
Like many Chinese people, Yiting was wearing masks long before coronavirus hit the country — both to protect herself from pollen and to keep her face warm.
But after coronavirus hit, she found the reactions from people changed dramatically, pushing her to start working from home before the lockdown was put in place.
“In March, I felt coronavirus was already in the town, so I started to wear a mask on public transport, and that was not a nice experience, so I started to work from home,” she remembers.
Since then, she says, it has mostly been OK, she has faced some strange reactions when she's been out walking in Oslo.
“If I’m on the sidewalk and if I walk and someone walks towards me, when there’s still quite a big distance that person will turn their face away from me,” she says. “There have been a couple of situations where people, after they walk past me, start to spit on the street.”
Perhaps the worst reaction came from a taxi driver, who became worried that she might be infected. “The taxi river was not very happy and he dropped me off before we reached the destination.”
- 200,000 would need to wear face masks to stop one new infection: Norway health agency
- Why is Norway not recommending face masks for the public?
The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends that people wear masks if they are in a crowded public place where it is not possible to keep a safe social distance.
But Norway's health authorities are currently not recommending that people wear masks, with the Norwegian Institute of Public Health calculating last month that 200,000 people would have to wear masks to prevent a single new infection.
Yiting's experience is far from unique. Many foreigners in Oslo have decided to stop wearing masks after the stares got too much.
“I actually stopped wearing a mask for short walks around the block, as people were staring at me like I'm an idiot who believes that covid19 can actually do harm to people,” says Tamara.
“I felt uncomfortable every single time I wore a mask, but I wear it anyway because I'm in a risk group. I'm also a young person, so people don't think I could be in a risk group, so they just look at me like an idiot.”
She now only wears a mask when she's on the way to visit the doctors, or go for a blood test.
“I just notice people staring at me constantly and avoiding coming near me on public transport more so than other people,” says Leslie. “I suppose simply because it is fairly uncommon to actually wear a face mask here.”
“When I landed in Oslo during May, I had a mask on and the taxi driver asked me if I have Covid-19,” says Claudette. “I explained that I am doing it to protect myself and those around me, but he looked puzzled.”
Thomas wore a mask when shopping until mid-June, but said he didn't have any problems beyond staring. “I never had any bad reactions from others, just some stares. I noticed I walked more vigorously to give an impression of being healthy.”
Yiting blames the Norwegian government's position on masks for the public hostility, saying that because masks were not recommended, many people believed that people would only wear them if they had symptoms and were on their way to tested for potential coronavirus.
“For Norwegians when they see you are wearing a mask, they don’t think you wear a mask to protect yourself. They think you wear a mask because you have been infected or live with some one infected.”
She said she thought the government advice should change. “I don't like that advice. It makes me a target or a suspect!” she complains. “I don’t feel it’s really a very comfortable experience wearing a facemask, especially if you have a foreign face.”