• This week's MP's column comes from Philip Davies, Conservative MP for Shipley. His views do not necessarily reflect those of the Telegraph & Argus.

FROM the outset the Government’s Covid-19 restrictions have infringed on our freedoms.

The majority of these rules, such as the rule of 6 and the 10pm curfew, have been entirely arbitrary and without any scientific basis at all. One of the worst examples of the suffocation of our basic freedoms is the mandatory wearing of masks.

For the Government to make something compulsory - enforceable by law - there must be an overwhelming case for doing so.

Even by the Government’s own admission, mandatory mask wearing has not even come close to meeting that test; indeed, it is now clear that masks are probably one of the most under-researched strands of the Government’s coronavirus response. 

The minutes of a Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies’ meeting, before the introduction of this policy, record that: “The evidence on effectiveness of masks for source control….is weak. Evidence for protecting the mask wearer from becoming infected is also weak.”

Public Health England’s conclusion in June 2020 was that: “There is weak evidence from observational and modelling studies that community-wide mask wearing may contribute to reducing the spread of Covid-19…”

In response to one of the Parliamentary Questions I subsequently tabled, the Government explained that Public Health England had undertaken an initial ‘rapid review’.

They then conducted a further ‘rapid review’ of face masks after people were mandated, by law, to wear them. The reviews considered various studies many of which, it seems, provided limited evidence of the effectiveness of masks outside clinical settings where all other factors can be controlled.

Various reservations have been expressed about the usefulness of masks, including by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control and the Cochrane Review on face coverings.

Professor Robert Dingwall, one of the UK’s leading sociologists and previous advisor to British governments on pandemic policy, and Professor Carl Heneghan, general practitioner physician and a clinical epidemiologist, also warn that the existing evidence is insufficient and that higher quality studies need to be conducted to ascertain the effectiveness of face coverings in the community. 

Professor Tom Jefferson, the lead author on the Cochrane Review on face coverings, who has been studying respiratory viruses for 30 years, explains that given the unpredictability of viruses, one of the only certainties is that transmission is most likely to occur from touching.

Even having to put on a mask in the first place involves additional touching of our faces. Then, when masks are worn, they naturally accumulate viral particles. If the wearer touches the mask to adjust it or take it off those particles are quickly transferred from hands to face and then ingested or inhaled.

Masks are also stored in pockets and handbags ready for constant reuse and some are then even discarded on pavements, in public toilets or the like afterwards. When the wearer disposes of the mask incorrectly, the risk of transmission also increases.

Professor Tom Jefferson also argues that the sense of protection afforded by mask wearing makes some people less vigilant about touching. This is backed up by the World Health Organisation’s concerns about the potential harms of masks – which include giving a false sense of security to wearers. Some medical opinion even goes as far as to say that masks are actually a possible risk factor for infection and a higher incidence of Covid-19.

We have repeatedly been told that the Government is being ‘led by the science’ during the pandemic as if all scientists share one perspective. Professor Carl Heneghan says that without solid evidence, science is simply a spectrum of opinions.

Professor Robert Dingwall also adds that a common theme within the Government’s ‘led-by-the-science’ approach is that even if the evidence is weak there is an insistence that we should follow these policies anyway.  In a supposedly free country this is simply not good enough. 

I believe that if people want to wear a mask then they should be free to do so. However, if people don’t want to wear a mask, they should be free to decide that for themselves too.

In the early days of Covid-19, all interventions - from social distancing, isolation and mask-wearing- went unchallenged by most because these measures were perceived to be temporary. 

The Government cannot be allowed to introduce, and continue, a policy - enforceable by law - that forces almost the entire country to cover their face on the off chance it is beneficial.

I have found it chilling how easily the public have been frightened (deliberately) into giving up their freedoms.  

We cannot allow ourselves to sleepwalk into the kind of authoritarianism we would usually associate with Communist China.  It is time to get back to normal - not the new normal some have in mind for us.