Videos of anti-mask wearers swept social media over the weekend. A small minority of people in Melbourne took it upon themselves to argue with workers, including at Bunnings and at post offices, about the state government’s mandation on face coverings in light of the coronavirs crisis.
Wait til this Karen finds out about ‘no shoes, no shirt, no service’. pic.twitter.com/2dvLE90dOa
cam smith (@sexenheimer) July 25, 2020
With arguments cropping up that face masks are a matter of ‘human rights’ and ‘basic freedom’, we thought we’d have a closer look at the facts.
Here’s how to have a conversation with someone who refuses to wear a mask.
Firstly, what’s the latest snapshot of the coronavirus crisis in Victoria?
It’s not great.
Victoria recorded 532 more COVID-19 cases on Monday, plus six more deaths. That’s the biggest single-day increase in Australia since the pandemic began. It follows the single deadliest day for Australia on Sunday, when 10 people died.
The deaths take the state toll to 77 and the national figure to 162.
Victoria is now coming up to their third week of lockdown, as well as experiencing three-digit daily growth in their coronavirus cases.
Remind me, what has the Victorian government told us to do?
As of July 23, it became mandatory that all people in Melbourne and Mitchell Shire wear masks or face coverings when in public. There are a few exemptions.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said that although police have the power to issue $200 fines, it should never ever come to that”.
They are trying to be as fair as they possibly can be, he said, but if youre just making a selfish choice based on your belief, your personal belief, quoting something youve read on some website, it’s not about human rights.”
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‘As a business, you can’t make me wear a mask.’
Well. No one can make you do anything. But they can refuse you entry.
The Australian law states that private landowners or occupiers can take reasonable actions to protect themselves and their employees, as well as people on their property.
During a pandemic, wearing a mask is a public health precaution. So businesses can absolutely make mask-wearing mandatory to protect their staff and customers.
Also, businesses introducing conditions for entry is not new. Restaurants or night clubs can – and do – have rules about dress code, and can deny entry accordingly, as long as those rules are not discriminatory.
‘It’s my right as a living person to do whatever I want.’
Truth be told, I am no expert on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
But last time I checked, ‘doing whatever you want regardless of the context or circumstance, for example a global pandemic‘ is not a recognised right in any historic document.
Since you brought up human rights, though, we should talk about them.
The Human Rights Watch, an international non-governmental organisation that conducts research and advocacy on human rights, has spoken about the relationship between human rights and governments’ responses to the coronavirus pandemic.
In their words, “International human rights law guarantees everyone the right to the highest attainable standard of health and obligates governments to take steps to prevent threats to public health and to provide medical care to those who need it… restrictions on some rights can be justified when they have a legal basis, are strictly necessary, based on scientific evidence and neither arbitrary nor discriminatory in application, of limited duration, respectful of human dignity, subject to review, and proportionate to achieve the objective.”
In other words, governments actually have a human rights obligation to put reasonable measures in place to protect their citizens in the face of serious public health threats.
So, sure, you are free to make a choice about whether you comply with the law or not. But, as always, there are consequences if you don’t. If you live in Melbourne, that consequence is a $200 fine.
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‘What does the science say about mask-wearing anyway?’
The overwhelming evidence suggests that masks are effective in mitigating the spread of COVID-19.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed on July 14 that “the latest science affirms that cloth face coverings are a critical tool in the fight against COVID-19 that could reduce the spread of the disease, particularly when used universally within communities.”
On top of this, 100 of the world’s top academics wrote an open letter to tell governments “that mask use can help save lives, restore jobs, and slow the pandemic.”
The academics conducted an international review of the scientific research and found that wearing masks reduced the transmissibility of infected coronavirus droplets, therefore substaintially reducing the death toll and other harms to public health. They said the action of wearing masks “will prevent people who are infectious from unkowingly spreading the disease.”
Basically, the science is in favour of face masks.
And in parts of Victoria, so is the law.
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