Face mask policy has been a moving target since the COVID-19 pandemic hit. With some countries and localities facing shortages, and the World Health Organization itself initially suggesting that masks were not effective in containing the spread of the virus, governments were reluctant to implement rules to force people to wear face coverings.
But since, attitudes have evolved. Masks4All, a group of researchers and scientists, found that only around 10 countries recommended wearing masks in mid-March, whereas as of mid-May, around 100 countries require or recommend them.
More recent studies have now shown that the virus could spread by particles suspended in the air and that masks, if worn properly, could serve as a barrier against droplets expelled into the air. If some experts are concerned that masks might give a false sense of security, there is a least a consensus that they can reduce the risk of an infected person passing on the virus.
So now, governments see new rules about masks as one possible way to avoid a second wave of infections without reimposing strict lockdowns that could further damage their economies.
France: The French government first advised people to wear masks only if they were sick or were health workers, before encouraging all citizens to wear protective equipment in public. Now with all restrictions and lockdown measures lifted, Prime Minister Jean Castex has announced that it would be compulsory to wear masks in all enclosed public spaces beginning next week, Franceinfo reports.
This comes as concern grows amongst experts who warn that people are "abandoning" barrier gestures, including a concert in the southern city of Nice that drew some 5,000 people packed closely together and almost all without masks.
So far masks were only compulsory in public transport, while shops and businesses had the right to require their customers to wear such protective equipment.
Hong Kong: The island has recently imposed its strictest social distancing restrictions since the beginning of the pandemic, following a surge in new coronavirus cases.
The rules include mandatory face masks for people using public transport — a first in Hong Kong which had not yet imposed the wearing of masks for its citizens. So far the city had only recommended using such protective equipment in crowded places.
Failing to comply with this rule may attract a fine of HK$5,000 ($645) and entry may be refused, Hong Kong Free Press reports.
In Hong Kong on July 14 — Photo: Chan Long Hei/SOPA/ZUMA
Brazil: As cases continue to soar in Brazil, the second-worst hit country in the world with more than 1.9 million infections, the Chamber of Deputies approved a new law to make the use of masks obligatory in public. Several states already made face coverings mandatory, but this was the first law on a national level.
However, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro vetoed their use in shops, schools and churches as well as the enforcement of fines for those violating the rules. He also vetoed articles requiring public authorities to distribute masks to "economically vulnerable people."The law is now in the hands of the Congress, which will decide whether to maintain or reverse these vetoes.
Jair Bolsonaro, who has been downplaying the severity of the pandemic since it started and refused to wear a mask in public, was seen wearing one when he announced he had tested positive for the coronavirus. But it doesn't mean that the political leader has come round: he allegedly used homophobic language to mock the use of face masks, Folha de São Paulo reports, and took off his mask in a televised interview, exposing journalists who filed a criminal complaint to the Supreme Court.
Spain: In Andalusia, a ruling was approved this week making masks mandatory in all public spaces. Failing to abide will bring fines.
The decision comes as local outbreaks of COVID-19 have been registered in the last few weeks.
Similar measures have already been taken by other regional governments in Catalonia, the Balearic Islands and Extremadura, reports El Pais.
The United States: President Donald Trump finally reversed his position this month, urging Americans to wear masks although he himself had refused to do so before and even mocked Joe Biden who had worn one during a ceremony. The president was seen last week wearing a mask for the first time in public. So far there has been no national mask mandate issued, but states have taken the matter in their own hands.
Alabama's governor announced this week that people will have to wear masks when leaving the house. According to the Washington Post, nearly half of all states are now requiring their citizens to wear the protective equipment.
The country's largest retailer Walmart Inc. has just issued the same rule for its customers in its 5,000 stores across the country beginning next week. Other national chains have made similar moves, as cases continue to climb us in the U.S. with more than 3.3 million infections.
As Turkey fears the EU closing ranks over defense, Turkish President Erdogan is looking to Boris Johnson as a post-Brexit ally, especially as Angela Merkel steps aside. This could undermine the deal where Ankara limits refugee entry into Europe, and other dossiers too.
BERLIN — According to the Elysée Palace, the French presidency "can't understand" why Turkey would overreact, since the defense pact that France recently signed in Paris with Greece is not aimed at Ankara. The agreement covers billions of euros' worth of military equipment, and the two countries have committed to come to each other's aid if they are attacked.Although Paris denies this, it is difficult to see the agreement as anything other than a message, perhaps even a provocation, targeted at Turkey.
Officially, the Turkish government is unruffled, saying the pact doesn't represent a military threat. But the symbolism is clear: with the U.S., UK and Australia recently announcing the Aukus security pact, Ankara fears the EU may be closing ranks when it comes to all military issues.
What will Aukus mean for NATO?
Turkey has long felt left out in the cold, at odds with the European Union over a number of issues. Yet now President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is setting his sights on another country, which also wants to become more independent from Europe: the UK.
Europe's approach to security and defense is changing dramatically. Over the past few months, while the U.S. was negotiating the Aukus pact with Britain and Australia behind the EU's back, a submarine deal between Australia and France, which would have been worth billions, was scrapped.
The EU is happy to keep Erdogan waiting
Officially, Turkey is keeping its cards close to its chest. Addressing foreign journalists in Istanbul, Erdogan's chief advisor Ibrahim Kalin said the country was not involved in Aukus, but they hope it doesn't have a negative impact on NATO. However, the agreement will have a significant effect on Turkey.
"Before Aukus, the Turks thought that the U.S. would prevent the EU from adopting a defense policy that was independent of NATO," says Sinan Ülgen, an expert on Turkey at the Brussels think tank Carnegie Europe. "Now they are afraid that Washington may make concessions for France, which could change things."
Macron sees post-Merkel power vacuum
Turkey's concerns may well prove to be justified. Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel always argued for closer collaboration with Turkey, partly because it is an important trading partner and partly because it has a direct influence on the influx of migrants from Asia and the Middle East to Europe.
Merkel consistently thwarted France's plans for a stricter approach from Brussels towards Turkey, and she never supported Emmanuel Macron's ideas about greater strategic autonomy for countries within the EU.
But now she that she's leaving office, Macron is keen to make the most of the power vacuum Merkel will leave behind. The prospect of France's growing influence is "not especially good news for Turkey," says Ian Lesser, vice president of the think tank German Marshall Fund.
Ankara fears the defense pact between France and Greece could be a sign of what is to come. According to a statement from the Turkish Foreign Ministry, the agreement is aimed "at NATO member Turkey" and is damaging to the alliance. Observers also assume the agreement means that France is supporting Greece's claims to certain territories in the Mediterranean which remain disputed under international law, with Turkey's own sovereignty claims.
Paris is a close ally of Athens. In the summer of 2020, Greece and Turkey were poised on the threshold of a military conflict in the eastern Mediterranean. Since then, Athens has ordered 24 Rafale fighter jets from France, and the new pact includes a deal for France to supply them with three frigates.
French President Emmanuel Macron and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on September 27 in Paris
Erdogan’s EU wish list
It's not the first time that Ankara has felt snubbed by the EU. Since Donald Trump left the White House, Turkey has been making a considerable effort to improve relations with Brussels. "The situation in the eastern Mediterranean is peaceful and the migrant problem is under control," says Kalin. Now it is "high time" that Europe does something for Turkey.
Erdogan's wish list is extensive: making it easier for Turks to get EU visas, renegotiating the refugee deal, making more funds available to Turkey as it continues the process of joining the EU, and moderniszing the customs union. But there is no movement on any of these issues in Brussels. They're happy to keep Erdogan waiting.
Britain consistently supported Turkey's ambition to join the EU
Now he is starting to look elsewhere. At the UN summit in September, Erdogan had a meeting with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson at the recently opened Turkish House in New York. Kalin says it was a "very good meeting" and that the two countries are "closely allied strategic partners." He says they plan to work together more closely on trade, but with a particular focus on defense.
Turkey's second largest export market
The groundwork for collaboration was already in place. Britain consistently supported Turkey's ambition to join the EU, and gave an ultimate proof of friendship after the failed coup in 2016. Unlike other European capitals, London reacted quickly, calling the coup an "attack on Turkish democracy," and its government has generally held back in its criticism of Turkey.
At the end of last year, Johnson and Erdogan signed a new free trade agreement, which will govern commerce between the two countries post-Brexit. Erdogan has called it "the most important treaty for Turkey since the customs agreement with the EU in 1995."
After Germany, Britain is Turkey's second largest export market. "Turkey now has the opportunity to build a new partnership with the United Kingdom and it must make the most of it," says economist Ali Kücükcolak from the Istanbul Commerce University.
Erdogan is well aware of this, as Turkey is in desperate need of an economic boost. Inflation currently stands at 19%, and the currency's value is consistently falling. Turks are feeling the impact on their daily lives: food and rent are becoming increasingly expensive, while salaries remain unchanged.
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