Inside the UK anti-mask movement where conspiracy theorists risk 'more deaths' by claiming MASKS kill people
IN a week's time, Brits will have to wear a mask whenever they're in ashop or supermarket – but thousands are protesting the decision.
The new rules, which carry a £100 fine if broken, are being furiously opposed by Britain's so-called "anti-maskers".
Anti-maskers resist wearing facemasks either because they view them as ineffective, or because they view the order to wear masks an unjustified assault on their personal freedom.
Some even think masks themselves are dangerous.
All sorts of bogus claims are made to deny scientific advice on wearing masks, including some extreme theories which suggest they can kill people by starving the wearer of oxygen or make them breathe in dangerous amounts of exhaled carbon dioxide.
There has been widespread resistance to masks in the US, where over 138,000 people have died of Covid-19, with nearly one-in-five Americans saying they're anti-mask, according to a Global Strategy Group poll.
But as the British Government insists they must be worn in shops, resistance is now growing in the UK too.
Oxygen deprivation and CO2 poisoning
One of the main conspiracy theories about masks is that they decrease the amount of oxygen going into a wearer's blood.
This has been repeatedly disproved with respect to all standard face masks, including surgical, fabric, and N95s.
Doctors have even taken videos of themselves measuring the oxygen saturation levels in their blood while wearing masks to prove there's no danger.
In one, Dr Joshua Wolrich, a London-based surgeon, says: "Masks do not have the ability to reduce your oxygen, that it medically false.
"Stop making stuff up, stop listening to people who are making stuff up, and stop turning this into a political issue."
But despite Dr Wolrich's video and others like it, anti-maskers aren't convinced.
One anti-masker wrote: "Do you not know how unhealthy it is to keep inhaling your carbon dioxide and restricting proper oxygen flow?
"Masks will hamper oxygen intake."
They attributed the quote to Dr Judy Mikovits, a discredited virologist who has promoted Covid-19 conspiracy theories.
But medical professionals insist the concerns about oxygen and carbon dioxide are unfounded.
“The anti-mask messaging is dangerous," says Dr Dawn Harper, a GP based in Stroud, Gloucestershire.
“It could lead to more deaths, bottom line.
“If you’re wearing a standard mask, you probably need to change it every four hours. Once they get moist, they are less effective.
"But there’s no evidence that they impair our ability to get enough oxygen.”
Dr Harper, who also gave medical advice on the Channel Four series Embarrassing Bodies, says masks aren't advisable for children under the age of two because of their "very small airways", but there's no issue for most adults.
“All the evidence suggests that, in the current climate, when the virus is still out there, the benefits of wearing a mask definitely outstrip any risk," Dr Harper adds.
Concerns about inhaling dangerous amounts of "built up" CO2 in masks such that the wearer develops a deadly condition has also been repeatedly lampooned by medical professionals.
The condition, called hypercapnia, can lead to dizziness, hyperventilating, and even loss of consciousness in extreme cases.
"The level of CO2 likely to build up in the mask is mostly tolerable to people exposed to it," a representative for the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) told Reuters.
"You might get a headache but you most likely [would] not suffer the symptoms observed at much higher levels of CO2."
Some people oppose the new mask rules not just because they think they're ineffective, but because they see them as an unfair intrusion on personal liberty.
They call the move "dystopian" and often refer to the masks as "muzzles".
Many social media posts expressing such ideas use the hashtag #KBF, an allusion to Keep Britain Free campaign which argues that the Government's lockdown was and is illegal.
The campaign, which was created by multi-millionaire businessman Simon Dolan, opposes the mask mandate along with other "draconian" rules and regulations.
Dolan, who is reportedly worth £200million, launched an unsuccessful legal bid for a High Court judicial review of the lockdown after crowdfunding £200,000 from 6,500 people.
Speaking to Sun Online, Dolan insists the scientific consensus on masks is that they are "broadly useless" and there is "little to no evidence they actually protect anyone," citing Health Secretary Matt Hancock's comments that the new rules were actually being brought in to "'give people confidence' to go shopping".
He also believes that being made to wear a mask could have a symbolic meaning.
"A muzzle is traditionally used of course to stop people speaking," Dolan says.
"The symbolism of the mask is quite apparent, and let's be realistic, no [government] wants people to question its decisions do they?"
But, despite the rhetoric used by some anti-maskers, Dolan calls for more civility in the debate.
"I see no reason to be belligerent to people who do want to wear them," Dolan said.
"It's their choice. All we want is the same courtesy – a choice."
'Protect our community'
But those who advocate for widespread mask wearing say the point is that more people should be wearing them for the good of everyone, even if individuals would prefer not to wear them.
Dr Tom Maggs, a general manager at healthcare firm Clinova and a practising pediatrician, says high rates of mask-wearing are essential in battling the pandemic.
"We are seeing more and more evidence, such as the recent study by the University of Edinburgh, that masks are a good way to reduce the viral transmission of COVID-19," Dr Maggs tells Sun Online.
"And to see this proof in action, all you need to do is look at transmission rates in areas with high rates of mask-wearing compared to areas where it is low."
In South Korea, Japan, and other east Asian countries, widespread mask-wearing has been seen as a possible explanation as to why the region has had relatively few deaths.
South Korea, for instance, has had fewer than 300 Covid-19 deaths in a country of 51million people, compared with Spain, which has 47million people, and over 28,000 coronavirus deaths.
"The issue we see, in terms of people wearing masks going forward, is education," Dr Maggs adds.
"Given the sudden change in messaging now telling people to wear masks, it may be a hard sell for many members of the public.
"The UK has one of the lowest rates of mask-wearing in the developed world – and we need to see these rates rise if we want to protect our community."
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