The rise of the anti-mask movement throughout Europe

The rise of the anti-mask movement throughout Europe

In recent months, many large cities across Europe have seen a spike in anti-mask protests and activism. Madrid, London, Berlin, Paris, Rotterdam and even Dublin have seen anti-mask protests, with large numbers of people showing up to protest against general covid restrictions. The movement is gaining more support every day. However, with infection cases and death rates still high throughout Europe, What is fuelling the rise of the anti-mask movement throughout Europe?

What are the reasons behind the rise of the anti-mask movement throughout Europe?

 It is hard to believe that there is such a growing movement against protective measures that were imposed to try and flatten the curve of a virus that has now killed well over 300,000 people in Europe. So what are some of the reasons for the rise of the anti-mask movement throughout Europe? As with any protest or activist group, there seem to be a few main commonly held ideals by the people involved in this movement. 

Masks don’t work 

The belief that masks don’t work and can actually cause breathing difficulties is one that is commonly held by the people involved in these anti-mask movements. Many have voiced their opinions on social media claiming people in high medical positions have found evidence that masks do not work and negatively impact breathing. However, this information has been consistently proven to be incorrect, with a large number of studies finding that face masks are undoubtedly effective in reducing the transmission of the virus from one person to another. 

Politics

As with most serious issues in the world, wearing a mask, and coronavirus as a whole, has become heavily politicised. Wearing or not wearing a mask, along with how much a person believes coronavirus is a serious issue, has almost become part of a person’s political identity. 

The right have become strongly linked to anti-mask movements in most European countries. Many right wing politicians have criticised the use of facemasks. To name just a few, Sammy Wilson of the Ulster unionist party in the north of Ireland has repeatedly spoken out against wearing a mask, while members of the conservative party in England have also objected. Desmond Swayne, a Tory MP, called the move to make face coverings mandatory in shops a “monstrous imposition”. 

Conspiracy theories, freedom and mistrust of government

Perhaps the most prominent reason given by anti-mask protesters for their stance on the issue is down to conspiracy theories about the government. A commonly held belief is that the government is using coronavirus as a way of controlling people.

The idea that a person’s freedom is now being infringed on by being forced to wear a mask, is a sentiment I have read over and over in relation to this movement. This idea is something that has really taken on a life of its own throughout social media. When asked why people are against wearing masks, they are often quick to denounce the coronavirus as a hoax or a way for the government to hold power over the public.  People now see the idea of not wearing a mask as a kind of anti-establishment move for personal freedom. 

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“Personal freedom has somehow become confused with public health”

I believe this is one of the most prominent problems with the anti-mask movement. Anti-mask is now associated with anti-establishment, a protest against the government people are dissatisfied with. Personal freedom has somehow become confused with public health due to a large spread of misinformation and conspiracy theories throughout social media.

I believe this is what lies at the heart of the movement, people are dissatisfied and angry, which is understandable from months of lockdown and uncertainty, and the anti-mask movement is a way to channel this dissatisfaction and take a stand. Months of being told what to do and what not to do, forced closures, and little freedom to do what people normally do, has bred resentment.

 The problem with this of course, is the longer people ignore public health advice, the more the disease will continue to spread. This in turn will lead to a continuation of local lockdowns and national lockdowns which will only lead the anger and dissatisfaction to grow. 

The fight over whether masks should be worn or not, contributes to the trend of an increasingly polarised society.  With vaccines beginning to be rolled out to the public, and the hope that the world may return to normality soon, perhaps these protests will soon be a thing of the past. However until then it is clear that the rise of the anti-mask movement throughout Europe is only growing.

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Aoife McDowell

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