doctor mask
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The UK government is coming under intense pressure to make the wearing of face masks mandatory in shops and other enclosed public places in England, but if that happens, it would be the wrong move.

And so it goes on. Even though deaths with COVID have dropped sharply, even though the virus has clearly petered out in Britain, even though there's been an official acknowledgement that some 30,000 'positive' test results have been double-counted, the clamour for more 'New Abnormal' measures to be introduced grows by the day.

The 'big' thing this week is to try and make the wearing of face masks compulsory.

In Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon has announced that despite there having been no COVID deaths for several days north of the border, her government would be making the wearing of masks in shops in Scotland compulsory from the 10th July. Anyone not complying could face a fine of ยฃ60.

Sturgeon's 'safety first' approach has been lauded by her supporters but is it the right one?

The onus is surely on those who want to introduce such illiberal measures to prove that they are necessary. I don't believe the advocates of mandatory mask-wearing have done that.

Follow the Science?

In March, Dr Jenny Harries, the Deputy Chief Medical Officer, said wearing masks could actually put people more at risk.

"Tell me about the value of wearing face-masks, is there any point to that," Dr Harries was asked by PM Boris Johnson.

She replied: "If a healthcare professional hasn't advised you to wear a face mask, it's usually quite a bad idea. People tend to leave them on, they contaminate the face mask and then wipe it over something, so it's really not a good idea and doesn't help."

Even the UK government's own website on Coronavirus states: "Evidence suggests that wearing a face-covering does not protect you."

The World Health Organisation (WHO) said in April 'there is currently no evidence that wearing a mask (whether medical or other types) by healthy persons in the wider community setting, including universal community masking, can prevent them from infection with respiratory viruses, including COVID-19'.

They did shift their position slightly in June, but even here they said 'at the present time, the widespread use of masks everywhere is not supported by high-quality scientific evidence, and there are potential benefits and harms to consider'.

WHO did not call on governments to make mask-wearing compulsory and only said governments should "encourage" the public to wear a fabric mask "if there was widespread community transmission," which clearly there isn't in Britain at the moment.

It's strange then that there's such a campaign now to make the wearing of masks mandatory, given the very low risks of catching Coronavirus (COVID-19) in July 2020 in the community at large.

If we weren't wearing them in March when we're told COVID was as its peak, why wear them in mid-July?

Moreover, if you take the line that we're better safe than sorry, why were there no calls to make the wearing of masks mandatory in the winter of 2017/8 when there 50,000 excess deaths - thought to be caused by the predominant strain of flu?

The fact that there were no calls then for masks to be worn by the politicians now calling for us all to wear them is quite revealing. Because surely if you think face coverings do make a difference with reducing infections, you'd want them used every time there is a bad bug doing the rounds?

In fact, given the figures, you could argue that there was a much stronger case for wearing face masks in early 2018 than there is in the summer of 2020. Yet no one made the case for the two years ago.Clearly there's more to this than meets the eye. You don't have to be Hercule Poirot to suspect there's a hidden agenda at play.

The simple question for those who want to make face masks mandatory is: For how long?

Until we have zero COVID cases? Until a vaccine is found? Until there are no infectious diseases doing the rounds? I asked that question yesterday on Twitter and didn't get a satisfactory answer.

If we're not careful, face-mask wearing could be around forever. Some have compared wearing masks to strapping on a seat-belt in cars. It's a poor analogy. The evidence that seat-belts save lives is clearly proven. There is no real downside to wearing a seat-belt. And wearing one does no psychological harm.

You can't say the same about masks. Masks can make us ill. They are particularly bad news for elderly people and those with breathing difficulties. They can trigger asthma attacks and are problematic for people who are autistic, deaf and hard of hearing.

With COVID having petered out in Britain, making masks mandatory at this stage only serves to boost paranoia about a virus which any calm, objective analysis tells us has been greatly over-hyped.

Put another way, the risks of catching the virus don't warrant the measures that are being imposed or advocated. Face-mask-wearing bolsters the narrative that COVID is a huge threat to us - on a par with the Black Death - which it isn't.

We need at this stage to be getting back to the old, February 2020 normal, not consenting to an anti-human, New Abnormal. Instead of putting on masks and crossing to the other side of the road when a fellow human being approaches us, we need to be putting on our most cheerful, happy-go-lucky expressions and getting back to living life without fear of something which the statistics tell us is most unlikely to happen.

It always makes sense to observe basic hygiene, to regularly wash your hands and to sneeze into a hanky and away from someone. If you've got a cold, or think you're coming down with the flu, stay away from others as much as you can, especially vulnerable people.

But mandatory face mask-wearing is a ludicrous overreaction. Let those who wish to wear them do so, but there should be no pressure applied on everyone else to follow suit.

Follow Neil Clark @NeilClark66 and @MightyMagyar