The Victorian government has finally scrapped mask mandates for most indoor settings as the number of Omicron cases continue to fall, and importantly, as hospitalisation rates drop precipitously.
Aiming to bring people into the CBD, which has been left fallow, the government will also remove the public health recommendation to work or study from home. Premier Daniel Andrews said of this decision, ‘That means there’s literally no rules.’
Except there are, with masks still mandated for public transport, taxis, planes, airports, workers in retail and hospitality, and – most disturbing and nonsensical of all – children in Grade 3 or above in primary schools.
The apparent reason for continuing to mandate masks in young children is that vaccination rates are comparatively low in this age group. However, this rationale is predicated on two things: 1) that masks can stop the spread of the virus, and 2) masks do more good than harm. Neither of these are true, according to research.
While masks have been touted from the start as the sine qua non in the fight against Covid, the evidence for their effectiveness was never shown. The inefficiency of masks to protect against viruses was a well-known fact in the medical community, with a 2020 CDC policy review, a 2019 WHO publication on health measure during pandemics, and a 2020 publication by the American Medical Association all pointing to the lack of evidence for the effectiveness of masks. But suddenly, when Covid arrived, all of these institutions forgot what they had known yesterday.
Two randomised-controlled studies published specifically on masking and Covid also bear this out. The Danish study followed almost 5,000 people, divided into mask and control groups, and found that mask-wearing did not make a difference in infection rates. The study conducted in Bangladesh, involving more than 340,000 people across 600 villages, found minor effects of masks, with a 9 per cent decrease in symptomatic SARS-CoV-2 infections in villages where masks were distributed and information was provided and reinforced. The result is made murky by the fact that the researchers found that the intervention also increased physical distancing, hence diluting out the already marginal effect of masks.
As to the point of masks doing more good than harm, this is at least debatable. A study in healthy adult males found that mask-wearing significantly reduced ventilation and pulmonary function parameters. The increased blood CO2 level associated with masks can lead to a host of health issues such as exhaustion, reduced cognitive performance, intensified psychiatric issues, and gynaecological risks. Mask wearing also results in the inhalation of microplastic particles, which may lead to lung disease.
Some research has shown that such side effects are manifesting in children throughout the Covid pandemic. A 2021 German study examined the experience of small children with mask-wearing, as described by their parents, doctors, and others. The study reported:
The average wearing time of the mask was 270 minutes per day. Impairments caused by wearing the mask were reported by 68 per cent of the parents. These included irritability (60 per cent), headache (53 per cent), difficulty concentrating (50 per cent), less happiness (49 per cent), reluctance to go to school/kindergarten (44 per cent), malaise (42 per cent), impaired learning (38 per cent) and drowsiness or fatigue (37 per cent).
Another study reported that Covid measures, including the masking of children, likely contributed to a significant reduction in their development, including both their verbal and non-verbal development quotient scores. These induced deficits may affect them for the rest of their lives.
And it mustn’t be forgotten that Covid is a much milder disease for children than for adults. A CDC study showed that Omicron, fast becoming the predominant strain globally, is much less deadly than the Delta strain, with a fatality rate similar to seasonal flu. It has been well known for at least 18 months that the risk of serious illness and deaths from Covid is magnitudes lower for children than for the elderly, and a recent study confirmed this for Omicron. If you think muzzling children for the flu is overkill, then the current mask mandate also makes no sense.
The great blunder for the Victorian government, indeed for many governments, is to make a viral pandemic political. Far from following the science, when reality disabused the governments of their hauteur and exposed their lack of control, and when people started to question the governments’ empty promises, they responded with the usual pathological inability to admit to mistakes. This has now culminated in a society where small children are muzzled to save the faces of the politicians.
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