To this day there is not a single peer-reviewed scientific study concluding that face masks, particularly those made of cloth, are effective at preventing the transmission of COVID-19. This fact was widely acknowledged by scientists at the beginning of the pandemic, although an inexplicable volte-face among world leaders reversed that decision in mid-2020. Since then, authorities of all creeds and colors have demanded their populations wear face coverings, despite no credible evidence they are effective. For some activities, particularly physical exertion, masks are actually a hindrance rather than a help.
The Spanish government is one of those authorities. When I arrived in Barcelona last week, my friend turned round to me and said: “You are lucky to have arrived today. This is the first day that they have lifted the outdoor mask mandate.”
Yes, you read that correctly. Until last Monday, Spain had an official mandate ruling that people must wear masks over both their noses and mouths while in the open air. Whether you were a farmer plowing the fields or an athlete training for their next marathon, the legal requirement was to wear a face-covering throughout, regardless of your location.
This was a case of having to see it to believe it, although my friend assured me compliance was well over 90 percent. Even though the government has now lifted that rule, similarly egregious ones remain fully in place. As part of Pedro Sanchez’s Programa Sanitario (Sanitary Program), all Spaniards are required to wear their face-covering in all indoor enclosures. This includes cinemas, shopping malls, theatres, and perhaps most shockingly, gyms. Those who fail to do so are liable for prosecution, although the normal course of action is a hefty fine.
No matter what Sanchez imposes, the only way such rules can be obeyed is if people are willing to enforce them. Despite protests from some politicians and organized demonstrations, compliance is both aggressive and widespread. Traveling on Barcelona’s public transport, I was unwilling to cover up my nose which attracted countless glares and attempts to shift away from me, as though I were carrying the virus myself. At one point, a girl in her 20’s started shouting “mask please.” Members of the public are often the government’s most aggressive enforcers.
Yet nothing could have prepared me for what I experienced at the gym Metropolitan Club Sagrada Familia. Not only were all clients forced to wear masks throughout their workout, be they using weights or a treadmill, but this extended to the use of the Spa facilities. So, as I was enjoying the sauna (rooms that reach up to 90 degrees Celsius), I came in for a nasty surprise. The club’s general manager, (a man I have since discovered has 20 years of experience in the gym industry), approached the sauna butt naked (with the exception of flip flops and an N-95 chemical-grade mask) and demanded I wear a face covering. “That must be extremely unhygienic,” I contested. “Those are the rules,” he replied. The typical bureaucratic answer.
Another example of Spain’s mask tyrants in action was when I was walking out of a shopping center with a drink and sandwich in hand. Obviously drinking and eating while wearing a mask is not the easiest maneuver, but that was no concern of the mall’s private security. As I was walking out of the building, a security guard sprinted over from the other end shouting caballero! to inform me that my mask should remain on at all times. I completely ignored the request, infuriating him even further. “Don’t ever come back to this mall,” he shouted as I exited the building.
While out for drinks with colleagues, the COVID debate eventually come up. “I would have never believed that Spain would be the most responsible country in Europe,” one remarked. “We are the ones continuing to protect ourselves against the pandemic.” That struck me as the most generous of interpretations. My view is less optimistic. For anyone who values civil liberties, such dogged obedience to power-crazed politicians is a worrying indication of their willingness to comply with the dictates of the Spanish state. As history should teach us, tragedy and injustice occur when good people become afraid to speak up. This is not just a warning to the people of Spain, but to countries around the world.