When France originally enacted mask mandates in 2020, I went to look for the law that prohibited religious face coverings (e.g. Islamic hijabs). To my surprise, it remained in full effect in the law - meaning that whilst it was criminal to wear a religious face covering, it was legally mandated to wear surgical masks. During the PPE shortage, I briefly humoured myself my imagining how French politicians would react to a brand of hybrid hijab and surgical mask face coverings.
Fast forward to the tail-end of 2021 and we see undeniably that face masks are now fully politicised.
Prior to epidemic modelling and expert hysteria being proven wrong on the extent of the August 2021 wave of COVID-19 in the UK, mask policy became particularly contentious. Indeed; it remains the case that whilst mask mandates continue to exist in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland - they have been removed in England (without catastrophic outcomes).
Randomised Control Trial evidence has now shown that the benefit of mask recommendations is practically non-existent to the wearer. At the same time, observational evidence has shown that FFP3 respirators may be highly effective at cutting COVID-19 transmission. In such circumstances, evidence-based public policy would likely lead us to the suggestion that as COVID-19 measures were being lifted, we should recommend the most vulnerable in society use high-grade FFP3 respirators, whilst removing mask mandates. With the global PPE shortage over, Government could even supply them to the vulnerable. The fact such policy wasn't even suggested shows the extreme politicisation of this matter.
This could also generally be seen in lockdown policy during the lifting of measures. The centrist voice of the creators of the Oxford vaccine, who called for shielding of the vulnerable to be re-introduced, was completely drowned out by the organised political hysteria of "experts" with hoards of Twitter followers.
Why then have expert groups sought to continue to insist on the wearing of face masks? In Laura Dodsworth's excellent book, A State of Fear: How the UK government weaponised fear during the Covid-19 pandemic, she talks about how Government behavioural scientists insisted on face masks as they liked it as a sign of "solidarity". In a recent piece entitled Faith Masks, Dodsworth quotes World Health Organisation director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus saying: “The mask has come to represent solidarity.”
The dangers of mask policy is however just beginning. In a previous blog post I highlighted the scientific evidence demonstrating that face coverings can play a role in affecting social cohesion and crime rates. One Randomised Control Trial involving children wearing Halloween masks found that face coverings can “can serve to elicit a state of deindividuation”, lower restraints and increase antisocial behaviour. Another observational study found a positive relationship between mask wearing and aggression.
I therefore was not also surprised today to see the news that the Victims' Commissioner for England and Wales saying that face masks have led to increase in stalking and making it harder for detectives to positively identify and prosecute suspects using CCTV footage.
The global security picture continues to worsen; the security picture continues to degrade in Afghanistan, with the chief of MI5 warning that this could lead to further terrorist attacks. Cultural conservatives, concerned for national security, are feeling increasingly that such matters aren't being taken seriously. For example; given the recent increase in crossings across the English channel (during the summer months), immigration has become the top concern amongst UK Conservative voters with the percentage of the British public who say the Government is handling immigration "badly" reaching a record high.
Against this backdrop; vaccines have nearly eliminated the risk of severe disease or death from COVID-19, and for all the claims of variants, no variant has been able to defeat any one of the approved vaccines. Indeed, the designers of the Oxford vaccine believe that no variant can fully defeat their vaccine. In any event, modified vaccines for variants are already in clinical trials. A variant-proof vaccine made by Valneva is in the late stages of being trialled and manufactured within the UK, with further studies announced yesterday in New Zealand.
As the risk of COVID-19 disappears, we are starting to see the security harms of face masks. The politicised nature of face mask policy will inevitably lead to an outcome whereby legitimate concern of the security risks of face masks will be ignored by proponents. Whilst behavioural scientists thought face masks would instill a sense of "solidarity" they risk tearing societies apart whilst exposing society and vulnerable individuals to huge security risks.