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Anti-mask conspiracy believers fined

Widespread COVID-19 conspiracy theories lead to anti-mask sentiment. Photo: Pexels & various

By ALLISON HORE

An anti-COVID conspiracy theorist was arrested on Friday for failing to comply with the COVID-19 public health order requiring Sydney-siders to wear a mask in public. 

This comes as a number of public figures, including an Australian MP, are being slammed online for spreading misinformation about masks and COVID-19.

A 55-year-old man who was not wearing a mask was stopped by police officers at Central Station at about 7am on Friday. When officers asked the man to put on a mask he told them he believed COVID-19 was “a hoax” and refused to put on a mask or leave the location.

The man was arrested and taken to Sydney City Police Station where he was charged for failing to comply with the COVID-19 public health order requiring masks be worn on public transport and in public transport waiting areas. The man was granted conditional bail to appear at Downing Centre Local Court in early February.

Another 28-year old anti-masker was issued a $200 fine after he claimed the public health order requiring him to wear a mask was a “human rights violation”.

The pair join a growing number of people who have been arrested or fined for failing to comply with Sydney’s mask mandate which came into force in January. 

Venues where mask wearing is required include shopping centres, indoor entertainment venues, places of worship and hospitality venues. Commuters catching trains, buses, ferries or any other sort of public transport are not allowed to board without a mask. 

Hoax claims widespread on social media

With COVID-19 hoax claims and conspiracy theories all over the web, it’s no surprise some people in the streets are buying into it and flouting the public health orders.

A survey conducted by The Guardian and YouGov-Cambridge Globalism Project last year revealed an alarming number of Australians believe COVID-19 conspiracy theories. Almost a third of Australians surveyed claimed coronavirus was deliberately created and spread by the Chinese Government. Another 23 percent of Aussie respondents bought into the idea the virus was developed by some powerful forces in the business world.

In September, 19 anti-lockdown protesters were arrested and issued with $1,000 fines at Hyde Park for participating in an unauthorised protest against the public health orders. At a sister rally that took place in Sydney Olympic Park, crowds chanted “shove your new world order up your arse” in reference to the conspiracy theory COVID-19 was created by a cabal of world leaders to control the masses.

To stop the spread of COVID-19 misinformation tech giants are cracking down on influencers posting unfounded and dangerous claims.

Television Chef Pete Evans is more well known these days for his anti-vaccination and anti-lockdown rants than he is for his cooking. His podcast was removed from Spotify this week after the platform deemed his claims about COVID-19 to be “dangerous, false, deceptive and misleading.”

The former My Kitchen Rules judge also had his page removed from Facebook after “repeated violations” of the platforms’ policies against the sharing of misinformation about COVID-19. Facebook said in a statement at the time they “don’t allow anyone to share misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines that have been debunked by public health experts.”

Masks “child abuse” claims Kelly

But it’s not just celebrities and social media influencers who’ve been slammed for sharing misinformation about COVID-19 on social media. 

Craig Kelly, a member of the Liberal party and the federal member for Hughes in Sydney’s South, also came under fire this week for claiming mandatory mask wearing was akin to child abuse. 

On his Facebook page Mr. Kelly shared the link to a not-yet-peer-reviewed study out of Germany which claimed the negative effects of children wearing masks include “irritability, headaches and difficulty concentrating”. Mr. Kelly posted the link alongside his own poorly spelled commentary which read “COMPLUSORY MASK MANDATES: CHILD ABUSE”.

“What other conclusion can be drawn from this first ever published study, other than that forcing children to wear masks is causing massive physical & psychological harm – that can only be defined as child abuse,” he wrote.

“I’m not aware of a single published study that shows a single benefit from forcing children to wear masks.”

Mr. Kelly’s post about mask wearing has been shared more than 1,000 times on Facebook and attracted almost 3,000 reactions. 

Despite the post’s unverified claims being spread so widely, senior members of the Liberal party have resisted calls to condemn Mr. Kelly’s posts. Instead of condemning his colleague, Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt urged Australians to follow the advice of medical professionals.

“We follow the advice of the medical advisers,” he said.

“And many people, as I’ve just said, will put out differing views. Many of those views have been shown to be wrong.”

The WHO advises that children over 12 “should wear a mask under the same conditions as adults” especially when social distancing cannot be maintained. The WHO and UNICEF also recommend that under some circumstances it would be appropriate to mandate masks for younger children, between the ages of 6 and 11.

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