While the spread of coronavirus in Quebec is under control, at least for the time being, a group is protesting against the obligation to wear a face cover in all closed public places, calling for the boycott of businesses that observe the directive of public health.

The duty revealed in its Tuesday edition that a Facebook group had attracted in one week more than 52,000 citizens who opposed this health measure. This group distributed a list of 400 addresses of businesses that would accept to welcome customers without a mask on their premises. However, the operators of a large number of these businesses had not given their consent for their establishment to appear on this list.

Anti-mask movements are not new. In the midst of a pandemic last year, while the deaths were piling up in Quebec, they raged by citing the uselessness of the measure or by affirming, with conspiratorial rhetoric, that the dangers of COVID-19 were non-existent , if not clearly exaggerated. In many cases, the remarks took on libertarian overtones, denouncing an oppressive state which violated fundamental rights. Impossible to reason these people, whose ineptitude, if it is not feigned in order to serve a treacherous manipulation, should assure them a good place in the kingdom of heaven.

Today, however, this nonsense succeeds a weariness, even a fed-up, among ordinary people after 16 months of health constraints. Above all, we have the impression that the battle is won. Citizens, without defining themselves as anti-mask activists, believe that they should be free to wear face coverings or not.

If, at the start of the pandemic, the Dr Horacio Arruda himself did not recommend wearing a mask – in any case, it was sorely lacking – the following, marked by the evolution of knowledge on the modes of transmission of this new coronavirus, proved that he was an essential way to slow down its spread. The compulsory wearing of a face cover is part of the arsenal deployed by Public Health which enabled Quebec to do better than elsewhere during the second and third waves.

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However, the guidelines for wearing a mask differ at the present time. Three provinces do not impose it inside businesses. In several American states, the wearing of face coverings is the responsibility of a small minority of citizens.

However, the examples of countries like Israel and the United Kingdom, with their high vaccination rates – which Canada is approaching, for that matter – should serve as a warning.

In Israel, the health authorities, faced with almost zero spread in June, dropped the requirement to wear a mask at that time. But the country where more than 55% of the population is doubly vaccinated reconsidered his decision after an upsurge in cases linked to the Delta variant.

In the UK, which has a full vaccination rate similar to that of the Hebrew state, Prime Minister Boris Johnson pushed back to his body defending the date of the lifting of the last restrictions from June 21 to July 19, when the number of daily cases had climbed to 7,000. However, the country now has 30,000 infections per day. Reported across Quebec, it would be 3,800 cases, while the maximum reached in a single day was 2,900 cases here last January.

In the United States, in states like Texas, where the mask requirement and other restrictions have been lifted, the number of hospitalizations due to COVID has tripled.

Experts report that the Delta variant is much more contagious than the first strain, but that it would not cause more serious health problems. All in all, the outbreaks would lead to hospitalizations and deaths among unvaccinated people, although at a lower rate than in previous waves, not least because it would strike younger people.

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Anyway, the Quebec health network, already bloodless, would struggle to withstand the onslaught of a fourth wave fueled by a more contagious variant. The only valid strategy is to speed up the vaccination of the population, with a second dose for those who received only the first, and a first and then a second dose for those who have still not been vaccinated (especially young people aged 18 to 30), in order to reach a complete vaccination threshold of 75%, and even more, at the beginning of September.

Until then – and the experience of some other countries is instructive – caution is in order. Undoubtedly a victim of its own success, the mask is, after all, an unconstraining measure that is still required.

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