You’d think it would be a simple thing to do, wear a mask, and stop possible airborne infection of the coronavirus, especially amongst the older population, but even that has drawn protestations and anger from parts of society. That the government announced on Tuesday that from 24th July, everyone who wishes to go to the shops will have to wear a mask or face a £100 fine has only worsened things, with many people claiming that this is an infringement on their liberties.
Some believe that the government’s decision (which applies only in England) is a massive overreach of government and as such they fear what complying with this demand could mean for the future. WIth Tory MPs branding the move a ‘monstrous imposition’ and some members taking to teenage like tantrums in publicly tearing up their membership cards, it seems that there is a view that this is not about safety, but rather about the government trying to sneakily increase their power.
The government’s own constant flip flopping has likely made it even harder for people to know whether to take the mask decree seriously, especially as ministers such as Michael Gove have been seen going to shops and restaurants without masks, despite government policy. And given that people tend to follow their leaders, this is clearly not the best example to set.
Of course, there is a flip side to this. Whilst, some conservatives have been decrying the imposition of masks, others such as former minister Steve Baker (a so called guiding light of the libertarian wing of the party) has said that the outraged comments around the mask debate were ‘not worthy of being labeled libertarian.’
Going on to explain his comments, Baker said. “It is not legitimate to argue that you can’t be forced to wear a mask when the mask is for the protection of other people, not yourself. One of the fundamental principles of liberty is the harm principle. You are free to swing your fists around up to the point that you hit somebody else. If the mask was for the protection of the individual wearing it then it would be wrong to force them to be worn.”
Others such as Robert Colvile, boss of the Centre for Policy Studies and a leading conservative tweeted. “Find it hard to buy the personal liberty argument [about] refusing to wear a face mask given that the liberty being infringed is your liberty to infect other people with a potentially fatal disease, which surely has an impact on their own liberty, and indeed mortality,”
Clearly, the mask debate won’t be going away anytime soon, that the government has been so late to actually implement masks, is surely another reason why the debate continues to rage now. Who wins this debate is currently up for grabs.