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Illustration by Security Management

Thousands Protest Pandemic Restrictions in Berlin

Face masks have become a flashpoint in the effort to combat the coronavirus pandemic. As governments, retailers, and organizations worldwide enforce face covering requirements, some factions—whether linking mask use to political statements, government overreach, or conspiracy theories—have protested the new rules.

In the United States, small anti-mask protests have occurred in Indianapolis, San Francisco, Utah, and other locations, with protesters claiming mask mandates are unconstitutional and “brainwashing and traumatization for our children,” IndyStar reported.

In the United Kingdom, mask use became compulsory in shops in late July, prompting small protests in London, the BBC reported. Similar mask requirements had been in place for weeks in Germany and Spain, among other European nations.

Over the weekend in Germany, however, about 17,000 people gathered to mark what organizers called “the end of the pandemic” (despite upticks in new infections), as largely maskless marchers traversed downtown Berlin. Protesters waved homemade signs sporting slogans such as “Corona, false alarm,” “We are being forced to wear a muzzle,” “Natural defense instead of vaccination,” and “We are the second wave,” the Associated Press reported.

Demonstrators said coronavirus restrictions—including the wearing of face masks—violated their rights and freedoms.

Police tried chiding participants to adhere to social distancing rules and wear masks, but eventually they had to break up the protest, resulting in dozens of police officers being injured—and three hospitalized—in the process. More than 130 people were arrested, according to DW News, for offenses including resisting arrest, breach of the peace, and the use of unconstitutional symbols (which in Germany includes Nazi and Communist symbols). Police have also launched legal action against the “day of freedom” event organizer over violations of hygiene rules.

The German government has been largely praised for its handling of the COVID-19 crisis so far. The country’s death roll—9,150 people out of more than 210,670 confirmed virus cases, as of Saturday—is five times lower than Britain’s, despite their similar populations, according to the AP. Lockdown measures in Germany have been eased since late April, but social distancing and face mask requirements remain.

Despite these vocal protests, in the United States most people are in favor of wearing masks. A Pew Research study conducted in early June found that 80 percent of Americans say they have worn a mask in public at least “some of the time,” and only 16 percent said they “hardly ever” or “never” wear a mask.

However, some parties are leveraging emotional triggers around the crisis to advance conspiracy theories or sow discord, which could spur security challenges, according to earlier Security Management reporting.