Annabel Denham, Head of Communications at the Insitute for Economic Affairs argues YES
Undoubtedly, masks are an inconvenience. They are uncomfortable to wear, and reduce the ability to communicate, interpret and mimic the expressions of those with whom we interact. These side effects will be felt more acutely by schoolchildren.
But there is good evidence that they also reduce the risks of Covid infection. They are among the key non-pharmaceutical interventions that will enable us to open up more, open up quicker, and stay open. They will also be short-lived, and to suggest that there is nothing so permanent as a temporary government programme in reference to a measure that indisputably burdens and discomforts children is fatalistic, futile conspiracy theorising.
Either we accept moderate infringements on our civil liberties, ones that serve as a constant reminder that our current existence is not as we wish it to be, or we petulantly reject them and face stricter restrictions. We are not in a parallel universe in which the 2020s lived up to the “roaring” hype, and too many are marooned on stage one in their grieving process: denial.
It simply isn’t true that children neither suffer nor spread Covid-19. Mercifully, they are far less likely to have severe symptoms. But data from the ONS, cited in a SAGE document from 17 December 2020, indicate that compared to household members aged 17+, children aged 2-17 were (a) twice as likely to bring Covid into their household, and (b) seven times more likely to pass Covid to other members of the household.
School closures reduce coronavirus cases and deaths. They also risk harming the life chances of a generation. If inconvenience is necessary to keep them open, this free marketeer is all for it.
Radomir Tylecote is a Fellow at the Institute of Economic Affairs, Director of Defence and Security for Democracy at Civitas and Director of Research at the Free Speech Union, argues NO
There is no evidence that the government’s dystopian guidance – that children’s faces should be rendered effectively invisible in lessons – is necessary.
Any claims that this is needed now fly in the face of all the evidence. Covid infections are down 98 per cent since January. Deaths involving Covid are down 92 per cent over the same time. And, largely thanks to the vaccination programme, 94 per cent of 70–84-year-olds now have antibodies. This was supposed to allow us our freedoms back.
But something has quietly changed, hasn’t it? These infringements are what happens when government begins to order society according to the ‘precautionary principle’. We could take precautions like this for the flu, passing on a tick with Lyme disease, heck, getting Marburg virus. But we don’t, because we know it would make no rational sense.
We know that a society organised according to the precautionary principle cannot, in the end, be a free one. A free society requires assuming a reasonable level of personal risk. This is the government by experts that Churchill prayed to be spared, because expertise is narrow and often forgets side-effects.
With infections down 98 per cent, we’re not asking for Spitfire-pilot levels of bravery here, folks. Pericles could see in 431BC that a culture can only sustain democracy when its rulers believe their people are capable of making their own judgments. When rulers decide they are hapless, why would they let them decide how they are governed?
In many ways, we already have an educational culture of learned fragility in the West, leading young people to call upon constant interventions from the state – the past year has only made this worse.
At this stage, we should be asking ourselves why we are having this debate at all. Our standards have been shifted dangerously towards authoritarianism. And whose power does that serve? Only one state is the winner here, and it’s not a democratic one.