Covid-19: Anti-maskers mock French government call for mandatory mask-wearing

·4-min read

In France, an anti-mask movement has emerged, insisting that wearing a face covering to prevent the spread of Covid-19 is inefficient and an infringement on their personal freedom. This comes as authorities in several more cities decreed masks mandatory in all public spaces.

Anti-maskers are gradually building a following in France, and elsewhere in the world, with videos, photos and petitions on platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.

As of Monday, French cities such as Lille, Toulouse, Nice and regional towns popular with tourists such as Quiberon,Tours, Saint-Mal and La Rochelle, have introduced mandatory mask wearing in all indoor and outdoor public spaces in a bid to curb the spread of Covid-19.

The French scientific council, which published its seventh recommendation to the government on Tuesday, warns that France is at a tipping point and could see a runaway situation with regards to Covid-19 if social distancing and testing is not sustained adequately.

Among the followers of this new movement, particularly active on social media, there are those who boycott shops, complain to their local mayors and call for acts of civil disobedience.

Infringement on personal freedom

"Believing that a paper or cloth mask will stop us catching the virus is just as outrageous as saying that a swimsuit with keep us dry when we go swimming," one follower said in a video.

Anti-mask protests have been held in England and Germany and there are now calls among French circles for a similar protest, possibly at the weekend.

In the United States, mask-wearing has enhanced the political divide during campaigning ahead of this year's presidential election, with Democrats supporting the rule and many Republicans rejecting it.

President Donald Trump was seen on many public occasions not wearing a mask, before finally accepting to do so in July.

Boycotting retailers

Salomé, one of 4000 members of an "anti-mandatory mask" Facebook group in France says there are different ways people are expressing their anger, such as taking selfies in supermarkets, without masks.

"Some are boycotting certain shops or they refuse to go into shops where they've been asked to wear a mask", she told France Info.

Others are sending letters and asking for meetings with local elected officials to set out their arguments against the rule, in the hope of eventually influencing national policy.

"It's designed to create panic, to get everyone to vaccinate themselves," one resident in Le Mans told France Info.

Masks seen as health hazards

Anti-maskers have put forward a number of reasons for not adhering to the rule ranging from health to economic to privacy concerns.

Some believe, like anti-vaxxers (those against vaccines) that pharmaceutical companies and the government are out to make money on the back's of citizens health.

On social media, fake doctor's notes can be found, excusing the patient for not wearing a mask due to a respiratory illness or other reasons.

In July, Facebook removed one of its largest anti-masking groups called Unmasking America! from its platform for violating its policies against spreading misinformation about Covid-19.

Confusing messages

Lawyer Carlos Alberto Brusa told the French press that the hypocrisy and constantly changing messages from the government over the issue of masks was pushing many people to disrespect the rule.

"Saying that the law is there to protect us and we need respect this rule blindly is really stupid because the same people today who tell us to wear the mask told us yesterday that it was useless."

Mask-wearing has also in some case lead to scenes of violence, and arguments in public places. One man in a suburb north of Paris was beaten by several men in a laundromat, because he'd asked a fellow client to put on a mask, according to Le Parisien daily on Tuesday.

Conspiracy theories are also rapidly developing, with some residents believing that the government is trying to use masks as a way to monitor the population.

For Rudy Reichstadt, director of the Conspiracy Watch Institute, the mask has become a pretext to undermine the government's handling of the crisis.

He suggests that if the government didn't encourage mask wearing, then they would be accused of letting the population die by getting infected - a Catch 22 situation.