Scandinavia and northern Europe is developing a reputation as a hotbed of “mandatory mask” denierism. But is it truly a dangerous affront to science and survival, as American social media companies like Facebook – which earlier today purged QAnon-linked accounts from its platform – want us all to believe?
One by one, scientists in Denmark, the Netherlands, Finland and Sweden have raised doubts about the effectiveness of asking citizens to wear masks in every public venue, with many arguing that asking people to wear masks at all hardly makes sense in places where the rate of spread is low. However, over the past few weeks, many have acknowledged that masks may be beneficial in certain circumstances, and policies that focus specifically on these (such as mandatory use on public transit) might be more beneficial.
As debate is mostly stifled in the US, Sweden’s top epidemiologist and architect of the country’s no-lockdown COVID-19 strategy, Anders Tegnell, is speaking up about Sweden’s decision to stand by its mask policy, which, like most of Sweden’s COVID-19 response, is surprisingly lax.
Speaking once again to the FT , Tegnell explained his doubts, his hopes and even areas where he suspects masks may be effective. But his final conclusion is that the “science” that American liberals are always boasting about simply isn’t as concrete as the Washington Post, New York Times and others make it out to be.
“It is very dangerous to believe face masks would change the game when it comes to Covid-19,” Tegnell told the FT. He also shared some evidence to suggest that his neighbors were caving to political whims, and perhaps pressure from Brussels, by widening mask mandates.
Soren Riis Paludan, a viral infections expert from Aarhus University, said research had suggested that at Denmark’s current infection rate 100,000 people would have to wear face masks properly for a week to avoid one infection. “If there’s very little virus in the community, the effect is limited. But if you’re in the middle of a hotspot, then everything says that they can have an effect. In Denmark, we have compromised and said face masks may be another tool in the toolbox,” Prof Paludan said.