What happens to anti-maskers after the pandemic?

The end of the COVID-19 pandemic may be in sight.

That presumably would also end the protests by anti-maskers, who have demonstrated against the public health orders, designed to stop the novel coronavirus from spreading further, almost since governments put the guidelines in place.

But it isn’t masks that drive them, a University of Regina psychology professor said.

It’s anger.

So they’ll likely keep protesting and then mobilize around the next divisive issue.

Gordon Pennycook said the so-called freedom rallies are just the latest outlet for a small group of people to express their rage at things that are out of their control.

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“It doesn’t really matter what the specific grievances are,” he said. “It’s the identification with grievances, with having them, the kind of enjoyment of protesting” that keeps them demonstrating most weekends.

He said anger was the “underlying fuel that builds people’s engagement.”

Global News identified several anti-maskers in Saskatoon from their previous counter-protests against Wet’suwet’en in February 2020 and the Defund the Police March, in June 2020.

Pennycook told Global News grievance-driven groups like anti-maskers typically have to shift their focus to another topic or “it just dissolves.”

“There is always going to be something that you can have grievances about in a society that’s as complex as ours,” Pennycook said, speaking from Regina.

He said such groups form through echo chambers on social media. He clarified that most people seek out echo chambers — people who hold the same views — but some can be very insular and fail to take in information from outside the bubble.

Like when overwhelming scientific evidence suggests masks help stop the spread of COVID-19.

So the chanting will likely continue, but an epidemiologist warns a small group of people can be a risk to others.

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“A partially inoculated population could be set back and threatened by vaccine refusers,” Nazeem Muhajarine said.

Muhajarine is part of a nationwide network to distill COVID-19 information to governments and the public. He’s also part of the Saskatchewan Population Health and Evaluation Research Unit, which tracks attitudes towards vaccination in the province.

However, he said the latest polling shows Saskatchewan residents’ determination to get vaccinated remains relatively consistent.

Around 76 per cent of more than 9,200 people polled said they would definitely get the vaccine or already had a shot.

About 13 per cent said they didn’t know if they would get inoculated.

Eleven per cent said they wouldn’t.

Muhajarine told Global News this places Saskatchewan right on the cusp of reaching herd immunity.

“I think we cannot go any lower than 75 per cent,” he said, “especially when we have variants that are developing a survival or evolutionary advantage.”

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If more people decide they won’t want the shot, the disease could still circulate.

Protection, Muhajarine said, comes when enough people get vaccinated.

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