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'Flu world order': Anti-mask activists protest order to wear face coverings

Sky News logo Sky News 19/07/2020 Ivor Bennett, news reporter
a group of people standing in front of a crowd: Demonstrators gathered in Hyde Park without masks © Other Demonstrators gathered in Hyde Park without masks

They say they are not "anti-masks" but "pro-choice", and their choice is not to wear a mask.

Come Friday, it will be mandatory to wear a face mask or covering in shops and supermarkets in England as part of public health policy to tackle COVID-19. Those who do not could be fined up to £100.

a group of people standing in front of a crowd: They carried signs urging others to 'spread love not fear' © Other They carried signs urging others to 'spread love not fear'

But the 100 or so people who gathered in Hyde Park on Sunday view the coronavirus legislation as a crackdown on our civil liberties.

None wore masks and there was no attempt to maintain social distancing. Instead people hugged for photos in front of placards willing others to "spread love not fear".

It was organised by a group called Keep Britain Free. There were pensioners, families, and babies. They huddled together to hear speakers citing research they claimed was proof of the ineffectiveness of masks in preventing the spread of COVID-19.

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More on coronavirus:

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Latest rules on face masks (Independent)

Lockdown changes: What it means for you (The Daily Mirror)

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It was largely good-tempered, but there were some who saw us as a target, since we were wearing masks. Two women with a baby accused me of pushing a government agenda designed to maintain order and keep the public living in fear.

Clare Wills-Harrison, one of the organisers, said the demonstrators were "campaigning for the return of our rights and liberties".

"The imposition of masks sixteen weeks after the pandemic is absolutely ludicrous and does not make scientific sense," she said, adding: "We're talking about many other issues, not just masks, it's not just that."

a group of people that are talking to each other: The demonstrators claim the restrictions challenge civil liberties © Other The demonstrators claim the restrictions challenge civil liberties

The government believes the use of face masks in shops will give people confidence to spend money. These protesters insist the opposite is true.

They also say the World Health Organisation is wrong in its belief that face masks could provide a barrier for potentially infectious droplets.

"There's many conflicting scientific views about the efficacy of masks," Ms Wills-Harrison claimed.

Gallery: How countries are edging out of COVID-19 lockdown (Photo Services)

"The World Health Organisation have changed their minds several times, as have the CDC," she added, referencing the US Centre for Disease Control.

The World Health Organisation, and subsequently public health authorities around the world, changed its guidance regarding the wearing of face masks in June, doing so in line with developing scientific evidence, it said.

The UK government followed suit, stating that although the evidence around wearing a face covering suggests it "does not protect you" from coronavirus, it could "provide some protection for others you come into close contact with".

The idea is that if we were all to wear face masks we would protect each other and thus ourselves.

The evidence of coverings preventing the spread of infection from one person to another is "marginal but positive", according to the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies that is advising the government.

Those who share the demonstrators' views are adamant they are in the right. But judging by the numbers in Hyde Park on Sunday, they are also very much in the minority.

So there is no sign yet of a culture war in Britain around the use of face masks.

Stay alert to stop coronavirus spreading - here is the latest government guidance. If you think you have the virus, don't go to the GP or hospital, stay indoors and get advice online. Only call NHS 111 if you cannot cope with your symptoms at home; your condition gets worse; or your symptoms do not get better after seven days. In parts of Wales where 111 isn't available, call NHS Direct on 0845 46 47. In Scotland anyone with symptoms is advised to self-isolate for seven days. In Northern Ireland, call your GP.

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