The Netherlands ended all mask mandates except on public transport yesterday, 25th February 2022. Today I went to a supermarket, for the first time in nearly two years, in which not a single person was masked. Not a single customer, and not a single employee. And it seemed quite unremarkable, and perfectly normal. It was almost as if mask mandates had never existed. Yet they had. For the first time in living memory, people had been ordered by their government to wear face coverings during their everyday business. So what have we learnt from this Great Masking Experiment?
The most important practical lesson from the Great Masking Experiment is that masks have probably played a marginal role, if any, in controlling the transmission of infectious disease.
After almost two years in which a large part of the West was plastered with mask mandates, evidence for the efficacy of community masking remains weak and inconclusive, at best; and jurisdictions that practically prescinded from the use of masks in everyday life, such as Sweden and Florida, fared no worse, and sometimes considerably better, than many other comparable regions that imposed strict mask mandates.
Don’t take my word for it. See what respected medical research organisations have to say about the efficacy of medical masks at preventing the transmission of respiratory viruses:
Cochrane, 20th November 2020
The pooled results of randomised trials did not show a clear reduction in respiratory viral infection with the use of medical/surgical masks during seasonal influenza. There were no clear differences between the use of medical/surgical masks compared with N95/P2 respirators in healthcare workers when used in routine care to reduce respiratory viral infection.
World Health Organisation, 1st December 2020
At present there is only imited and inconsistent scientific evidence to support the effectiveness of masking of healthy people in the community to prevent infection with respiratory viruses, including SARS-CoV-2.
European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, 15th Feb 2021
The evidence regarding the effectiveness of medical masks for the prevention of Covid-19 is compatible with a small to moderate protective effect. But there are still significant uncertainties about the size of this effect.
Of course, the dearth of solid evidence for the efficacy of masking does not necessarily mean it is completely ineffective, nor does it necessarily mean that nobody should wear a mask.
But a good principle of public health is to minimise reliance on coercion as much as possible, and instead to harness the goodwill and trust of citizens. In addition, public health officials should not rest their interventions on untested theories, but recommend behaviour that is shown, through best practice and the balance of scientific evidence, to reduce disease and promote human health and well-being.
Community masking is a largely untested instrument of disease control and is not shown by solid scientific evidence to work to stem the spread of infectious diseases. So it is very hard to see how we can justify recommending it even on a purely voluntarily basis, let alone imposing it through coercive mandates.
The fact that governments saw fit not only to advise the use of masks, but to compel people to wear a face covering, especially in circumstances in which we had no solid evidence whatsoever for believing that masking healthy people was going to make any substantial impact on viral transmission, is symptomatic of a worrying shift in the relation between rulers and citizens. In particular, it suggests that the traditional model of public health governance, based on equality, trust and goodwill, has been superseded by a new approach to public health, one that relies heavily on paternalism and coercion.
The zealous reliance by public health officials on coercion seems to be premised on profound distrust in citizens’ intelligence and goodwill. There was a time, not at all long ago, when public health was governed on the basis that citizens could process and apply public health advice freely and in good faith. Public health agencies now appear to assume that citizens will act against their own better interests and those of the community unless threatened, cajoled and intimidated into compliance.
It’s time to abort this harmful experiment in mandatory masking and trust citizens to freely take the steps they consider most suitable to protect their health and that of their families and neighbours, equipped with honest and open information rather than the sort of infantalising propaganda we have seen coming out of health agencies like the USA’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention since early in the pandemic.
Unfortunately, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention has not been the only public health agency to misrepresent the evidence on mask efficacy by failing to note the low quality of many studies purporting to support it, and repeatedly suggesting or insinuating, without evidential support, that we know, with a high degree of certainty, that community masking can make a big contribution to the reduction of disease. Just watch how Dr Anthony Fauci, director of the USA’s National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases, made a volte-face on masks early in the pandemic, in the absence of any clear change in the scientific evidence.
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Living in South Africa I feel quite a sense of despair over mask mandates. We were one of the first countries to be completely overtaken by omicron, signalling the end of the pandemic and the vast majority of citizens are living or want to live normal lives. Yet, our government is refusing to drop mask mandates and seem to be using them as coercion to push the vaccination agenda and telling us that they'll remain in place until our 30% vaccination rate vastly increases. Yet of course we have done quite fine without the vaccine (as hard as they try to manipulate the stats) and our citizens have clearly decided that the vast majority of us simply do not want it and will never take it. We have natural herd immunity and the virus poses no significant threat. The complete failure to accept reality, which can only be to further the narrative our government has been told to push, is completely soul destroying for any thinking person. Many of us simply refuse to obey whenever we can remotely get away with it and for the rest simply avoid going anywhere that enforces mask mandates. Will this ever be over?
Another great article but I'm wondering if you meant this comment this way:
So it is very hard to see how we can justify imposing it through coercive mandates, let alone recommending it
Surely it's the other way round?