A group of Conservative MPs refused to wear masks in the House of Commons on Tuesday as Parliament voted in favour of approving tougher coronavirus rules.
For the second day in a row, backbench Tories sat in the Commons without masks while MPs debated new rules making it compulsory for the public to put on face coverings in shops and on public transport.
Anti-lockdown MPs including Covid Recovery Group chair Mark Harper, Sir Graham Brady, Desmond Swayne, Andrew Murrison and Christopher Chope were among a handful of Conservatives steadfastly refusing to wear a face covering during the debate.
Baker told MPs the government's new measures would set the country on a path towards “hell”.
Watch: Maskless Tory MP coughs during Commons debate about masks
"It's not really about face coverings," he said. "To me it’s not really about this issue of the coming pingdemic through the self-isolation”.
The MP for Wycombe went on: “It’s about how we react and the kind of nation and civilisation we are creating in the context of this new disease."
Adding: “So I think as a result the government, I’m afraid, once again is choosing that downward path towards — frankly — hell. The hell of minute management of our lives by edict, with nothing we can do about it and not even a say in advance in parliament."
The government's decision to reintroduce some social distancing restrictions comes as the Omicron COVID-19 variant sparks concern globally and more than 20 cases are detected in the UK.
A growing number of countries are closing their borders in response to the new strain which was first detected by scientists in South Africa.
Experts fear the strain may be more resistant to vaccines as well as being more transmissible.
However, the World Health Organization (WHO) has said it will take weeks before enough real-world data has been gathered about the new variant.
Conservative MP Chope told MPs that the prime minister had introduced a “scaremongering propaganda campaign” and criticised the government's new social distancing measures.
“I cannot support these oppressive, authoritarian and dictatorial regulations," he said.
"They’re neither necessary nor desirable, they will have an adverse effect on lives, livelihoods and the mental health of our constituents.”
He also claimed ministers had produced “no evidence whatsoever” to show the impact of the regulations on protecting public health.
However, evidence published by the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) shows that face coverings are, to a certain extent, effective at reducing COVID transmission in healthcare and community settings.
And the WHO has also urged countries around the world to encourage mask wearing to help control the spread of the virus.
Conservative MP Craig Mackinlay described what he called the “madness” of moving through a cycle of restrictions when new variants emerge.
“I think we should all be afraid of the madness of that kind of policy," said Brady.
“And the difficulty is that, maybe 18 months ago, when some of us started raising these concerns, it was possible for some people to suggest that we were being fanciful. We’ve now lived it for 18 months, and we can see this reaching ahead.
“Now again, we see the government’s immediate assumption that what it should reach for is new controls, new compulsion. New rules that will be inflicted on the British people — and I think we need to move away from that, move back to a world where we trust people.”
Despite a small rebellion from Tory MPs, however, the new regulations for the mandatory use of face coverings in shops and on public transport in England passed on Tuesday afternoon by 434 votes to 23.
Mask wearing among Conservative MPs has long been a contentious issue for the party since the beginning of the pandemic.
On Monday, senior Conservative MP Swayne told health secretary Sajid Javid that face coverings were "mumbo-jumbo".
In October, Conservative Leader of the House, Jacob Rees-Mogg, caused controversy after he claimed Tory MPs did not need to face coverings because of their "convivial spirit".
And Boris Johnson faced fierce backlash after he was pictured in a hospital without a mask earlier this month, just weeks after being criticised for appearing maskless next to 95-year-old Sir David Attenborough at COP26 in Glasgow.
Watch: Conservative MP brands government's face mask advice is ‘mumbo jumbo’