Sabrina Almeida

While masks (or face coverings) are mandatory in indoor public spaces in Ontario and many other jurisdictions, not everyone complies. I am not referring to people with ‘genuine’ medical reasons for not wearing them but individuals with a my-health-my-choice and I-do-not-care-about-you attitude.

Some of these anti-maskers are drawing from the anti-vaxxers’ playbook of misinformation and conspiracy theories to rationalize and spread their message. Any evidence they present is usually wafer thin and hinged on a distrust of the medical community. Just like the anti-vaccination groups, they believe scientific information about highly contagious infectious diseases (like measles and now the coronavirus) is being put out by ‘vested interests’ and therefore not true.

Social media posts by anti-maskers and anti-vaxxers say that COVID-19 is not more dangerous than other diseases like the flu. They allege that it is being used by governments to monitor people (via contact tracing) and promote a ‘vaccine agenda’.

While one may not have paid much attention to the anti-vaxxers or anti-maskers before, the fact that these two groups appear to be combining forces could derail some government efforts to contain the pandemic.

Vladislav Sobolev, the founder of one anti-masking group ‘Hugs Over Masks’, has reportedly praised anti-vaccination groups on social media and during protests. Similarly, some anti-vaccination advocates in Canada and the United States have also embraced the anti-masking cause and opposed COVID-19 lockdown measures. 

These ‘freedom-to-choose’ groups say masks and vaccinations are medical interventions with inherent risks. Hence, we should be allowed the freedom to abstain from them.

The thousands of fake mask exemption cards sold online in Canada and the US show how far this can go.

According to Global News the cards in Canada were allegedly created by an “anti-lockdown group” that opposes mandatory mask bylaws. The news report referenced a post on the group’s Facebook page (not accessible now) which claimed “Over 2000 Face Mask Exemption Cards mailed out today! To get a card, you can attend the Toronto, BC or Manitoba protests or you can order online after July 16, 2020.” It then asked for a donation of $5 per card.

Both anti-masking and anti-vaccination groups advocate for health freedoms and personal choice in related matters. Aren’t they being selfish? After all, in the current pandemic situation, their freedom of choice could have a negative impact on society as a whole.

The World Health Organization (WHO) and Public Health Agency of Canada both advocate masking up  to reduce the spread of infection through respiratory droplets. According to the WHO,  wearing non-medical masks reduces the risk of asymptomatic carriers spreading the virus. It also reminds us that the pandemic is ongoing, and everyone can play a role in stopping it. Perhaps the anti-maskers have a better handle on things than they do?

Other Covidiots who may not support the anti-masker’s ideology but are just indifferent to the situation, add to the problem. They are stuck on reports about the ineffectiveness of non-medical masks which surfaced when knowledge of the coronavirus was limited. They will also cite examples like Florida where wearing a mask was not mandatory despite the huge number of COVID-19 cases. But Governor Ron DeSantis had refused to issue a statewide mask requirement, saying what’s right for large, urban counties might not be right for small, rural counties. So, I guess they are misinformed???

Exercising one’s rights and freedoms should not come at the cost of another’s (or the community’s) health and safety. That is the bottom line here.

Last year UNICEF revealed that an alarming number of Canadian children did not receive the measles vaccine. With 287,000 unvaccinated children, Canada was seventh highest among high-income countries. The United States topped the list with nearly 2.6 million unvaccinated kids. Reports also pointed to a 300% rise in measles cases when compared to a year ago.  “The measles virus will always find unvaccinated children, UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore explained in a news release.  Adding that to avert spread, “ we need to vaccinate every child, in rich and poor countries alike.” 

Healthcare professionals here too say that Canada is not immune to measles and that the elephant in the room is ‘vaccine hesitancy’.

A measles outbreak in New York which began in October 2018 and lasted almost a year, cost the city more than $6 million in response efforts. Eighty percent of measles cases in Brooklyn occurred in children, and 73% of cases occurred in people who had never been vaccinated against the virus. At the time of the report in September 2019, US measles cases had hit 1,234.

The coronavirus  ‘pandemic’ has claimed 8,914 lives in Canada (as of Wednesday)  and 655 112 worldwide (according to the WHO). Given this grave scenario, should even small interventions like wearing a mask be a matter of personal freedom and choice?


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