It’s happening again. After a period of welcome sanity – where those covering their faces in community settings could accurately be described as a deviant minority – the pro-mask propaganda machine has gone into overdrive. In what seems to be a co-ordinated enterprise, in the last couple of weeks our mainstream media has spread a variety of news stories pushing for more of us to hide our faces behinds strips of cloth and plastic. These include:
1. The announcement, at the end of 2022, that Northampton and Kettering General Hospitals has decided to re-impose mask requirements on all patients and visitors. This policy change provides further evidence of the mask postcode lottery operating within our healthcare system, where the decisions are left to the whims of local bureaucrats.
2. The pro-mask baton was taken up in the new year when Professor Susan Hopkins (chief medical advisor at the UK Health Security Agency) urged people who feel ill to wear a mask should they venture outside. In the grand scheme of masking zealotry, this was a modest recommendation, but – ominously – it does perpetuate the dubious assertion that wearing face coverings in the community reduces viral transmission, as well as preparing the ground for further incremental restrictions.
3. Throughout 2020/21, fear porn was highly effective in leveraging compliance with Covid restrictions, so no wear-a-mask propaganda drive would be complete without some scary stories and images from China. Our mainstream media were only too keen to oblige, with headlines about Covid deaths soaring, funeral homes overwhelmed and bodies being burnt in the streets in the aftermath of China’s relaxing of restrictions.
4. And then – predictably – the arch ‘nudgers’ (aka behavioural scientists) put their heads above the parapet, pushing their collectivist agenda. In a Guardian article, Professor Stephen Reicher repeated the tired trope that those opposed to mass masking were right-wing activists engaged in a culture war. He then urges the psychological manipulation of the masses by equating mask wearing with virtue (otherwise known as the ‘ego’ nudge) when he recommends, ‘reframing mask wearing as a community issue: less about individuals exercising personal responsibility; more about a collective exercising social responsibility, looking after each other, making sure we all come through this well’.
Meanwhile, Professor David Halpern (chief executive of the Behavioural Insights Team, the UK’s ‘Nudge Unit’) was promoting a similar narrative. In an interview for the Daily Telegraph (funded by the Reckitt Global Hygiene Institute), Halpern celebrates the use of ‘informal social pressure’ to get people to wear masks throughout the Covid era, and champions the concept of a ‘collectivist mindset’.
In effect, these two high-profile behavioural scientists are urging more covert shaming and peer pressure to get people to do the ‘right’ thing.
5. Reinforcements for the pro-mask push then arrived in the form of spokespeople for the World Health Organisation (WHO) – a prominent mouthpiece for the global pandemic industry – who have been doing the rounds again, regurgitating the messages we heard throughout the Covid era. For instance, Dr Maria Van Kerkove (an epidemiologist at the WHO’s ‘Health Emergencies Program’) has been popping up on social media sharing scary stories about variants and urging us all to mask up when ‘around other people’. While Dr Abdirahman Mahamud (an ‘Incident Manager’ at the WHO) stridently proclaims that ‘masking saves lives’, a preposterous assertion that would – in a rational world – send the official fact-checkers into overdrive.
6. If - God forbid – mask mandates were to return, public transport is likely to be the first target. So a story highlighting the risks associated with air travel would be gold dust for the propagandists. And, hey presto, we have one. Evidently, some researchers have been rummaging in the waste-water systems of 29 aeroplanes and found that, in 28 of them, they contained the virus responsible for Covid-19. (I wonder how many millions of other bugs they would have found among the excrement?).
7. And to cap it all, Nicola Sturgeon – the mask matriarch from north of the border – appears again at a press conference to urge us all to wear masks on public transport.
If our public health specialists had been following the science, the requirement to wear masks in community settings would never have been imposed; the bulk of the more robust, real-world evidence concludes that community masking has no appreciable impact on viral transmission. Also, it is apparent that the mask U-turn in 2020 – when our experts shifted from a ‘masks don’t work’ narrative to an authoritarian one involving mandates – was driven by ideology rather than empirical research. Taking these two observations into account, it is now morally appropriate to resist this latest push by the pro-mask lobby for the re-imposition of this ineffectual and dehumanising restriction.
And what would be the most effective way to counter further mask mandates? DO NOT COMPLY.
Photo courtesy of Gemma Evans at Unsplash