It is time to ditch the mask

If they make you anxious, take them off

This week, Boris Johnson squandered the opportunity to remove all the remaining COVID-19 restrictions, extending the mask and social distancing requirements until, at least, 19 July. A recent opinion poll found that over 60% of the population remain anxious about returning to a pre-pandemic lifestyle. These two facts are closely related; the restrictions are maintaining widespread fear about returning to normality. In the words of a currently popular Twitter hashtag, ‘enough is enough’ and it is time to ditch the mask and interact once again with other human beings.   

In March 2020 — on the advice of the government’s behavioural scientists — fear was strategically inflated to promote compliance with COVID-19 restrictions. Despite evidence that face coverings do not reduce the risk of viral transmission in real-world situations, and are associated with a range of negative consequences, a mandate to wear masks was subsequently introduced, partly to instil a sense of ‘solidarity’ and — in turn — acquiescence to the rules. As a crude reminder that danger is apparently all around, continued wearing of masks will exacerbate anxieties rather than reduce them. Furthermore, psychology suggests that masks are likely to act as a ‘safety behaviour’ that will prevent disconfirmation of anxious beliefs; those who persist with masks while mixing with their fellow human beings will attribute their survival to the face covering rather than concluding that the risk of serious harm from COVID-19 is now within an acceptable range in keeping with a normal, worthwhile life.

Wearing a mask in community settings is not a show of respect for other people, but a practice that is perpetuating inflated levels of fear. Israel and Denmark have already begun to lift this most insidious of COVID-19 restrictions. HART suggests you show your opposition to the mask mandates by signing our petition and supporting the Smile Free campaign. Or — even better, if they make you anxious — just take them off, as you are entitled to do under the regulations.

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