Thrill seekers wear face masks as they ride The Smiler roller coaster at Alton Towers on the first day of the opening of the Alton Towers following the easing of lockdown restrictions on April 12, 2021 in Alton, UK.
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LONDON – Since the beginning of the Coronavirus pandemic, many countries have passed laws forcing people to wear face masks and covers in public places to stop the virus from spreading.
While face masks are not uncommon for some and have been accepted without objection, a vocal minority have railed against what they see as a restriction on their personal freedom. Face coverings proponents cite studies showing they prevent the spread of Covid-19, potentially saving lives.
Now that countries are easing restrictions, wearing face masks – or not – seems to remain an equally controversial issue.
The mask wearing debate heated up in England on Monday after the UK government announced it would it would become a “personal responsibility” issue rather than a legal obligation if the Covid restrictions were lifted as planned on July 19th.
The move immediately provoked a strong reaction from people on both sides of the divide, who soon went to Twitter to share their views.
On Tuesday morning, the hashtag #WearAMask was trending on the social media site, with MPs, medical professionals and the public debating whether they will (or should better) wear face-covering after the restrictions end.
Masks were not initially recommended as part of standard public health advice, but after studies suggesting masks might help prevent virus transmission, the World Health Organization updated its guidelines in June 2020 to recommend that governments all Encourage people to wear fabric face masks in public areas where this is possible at risk of Covid transmission.
Currently in England face masks or covers are required to be worn in all indoor public spaces such as shops, supermarkets, theaters, museums and on public transport, unless a person is exempt from it on medical grounds. The UK police have the power to fine anyone with a £ 200 (US $ 277) fine for not wearing a mask.
The UK government’s plans to lift masks rules have received widespread praise from Conservative Party lawmakers, especially those who have been vehemently opposed to stringent Covid restrictions given the impact on the economy and livelihoods.
New Forest West Conservative MP Desmond Swayne was among those who expressed support for the plan and told CNBC on Tuesday that he believes wearing masks to prevent the spread of disease is “marginal at best “And that they were more likely to have been used to bring about” public reassurance and control “.
“You [masks] have significant social and psychological disadvantages, “he added.” It always struck me as pretty incredible, in a free society, that we should be instructed on what to wear and that we should be fined for it. Your status as of July 19 is correct: a matter of personal choice. “
Swayne and others, who see the imposition of masks as an affront to civil liberties, represent one side of the debate, and protests have been held in the UK against Covid measures, including the wearing of masks.
A protester holds a placard expressing her opinion during an anti-lockdown protest.
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But there are many on the other side of the debate who argue that it is a civic duty to wear a mask and stop the spread of a virus that has now killed more than 3.9 million people worldwide. according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
Following the UK government’s announcement on Monday, the Unite union, opposition Labor Party and some health experts were quick to express concern or criticism of the plan, saying it was risky at a time when the Delta variant is causing a spike in Covid cases . both in England and beyond.
Unite, which represents many public transport workers, said removing face covers as a requirement was “an act of gross negligence by the government” and Labor leader Keir Starmer described the move as “inconsiderate”. Some companies have already said that face masks will still be required for customers, such as: B. Airlines Ryanair and easyJet.
England, of course, is not alone in the public debate over face masks, the US is also seeing a similar divide. Unlike in England, however, the rules in the USA differ from state to state. Masks are required in some states, and others follow the latest guidelines from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In May, the CDC announced that in most environments, whether outdoors or indoors, fully vaccinated individuals would no longer need to wear face masks or be within 6 feet of other people, although it noted some nuances in the instructions (e.g. in a health sector). or in a store that needs it).
The CDC also noted that those fully vaccinated must continue to wear masks on airplanes, buses, trains, and other public transport.
However, in June the World Health Organization urged fully vaccinated people to keep going To wear masks, as the highly contagious Delta variant is spreading rapidly across the globe.
“People can’t feel safe just because they got the two doses. They still need to protect themselves,” said Dr. Mariangela Simao, WHO deputy director general for access to medicines and health products, added that a “vaccine alone does not” stop community transmission. “
Health professionals, especially those advising the UK government, arguably find themselves in a difficult position when it comes to wearing masks.
While the UK vaccination campaign has helped break the link between infections and hospital admissions and deaths, cases are increasing in younger and not-yet-fully vaccinated age groups, leading the government to increase the final stage of vaccination for all UK adults accelerate. More than 27,000 new Covid cases were registered on Monday. This brings the total number of infections confirmed in the UK to over 4.9 million.
Asked at the government press conference if they would continue to wear masks themselves, medical experts advising Prime Minister Boris Johnson said under certain circumstances.
“The first is in any situation that is indoors and overcrowded, or indoors with close proximity to other people. And that’s because masks protect other people, ”said England Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty.
He added, “The second situation is if I were asked to do so by a competent authority … And the third reason is if someone else felt uncomfortable with me not wearing a mask – out of general courtesy.”
What about Johnson? When asked if he would continue to wear a mask once the restrictions were lifted (a final decision will be made on July 12), he said “it will depend on the circumstances.”
“Obviously, there is a huge difference between being on a crowded subway train and sitting in a practically empty car on the main line late at night,” said Johnson.
“We want people to take their personal responsibility seriously, but don’t forget the value of face coverings to protect themselves and others.”