WITH the predictability of night following day, the backlash against mandatory facemasks has been underway in earnest this week as shoppers in England were told that they would be compulsory from July 24.

It was described as a "monstrous imposition" by Tory MP Desmond Swayne, while on Twitter the hashtag #Muzzle took off as opponents bemoaned being told what to do by ministers.

The tone had Trumpian undercurrents at times, echoing the president's comments to a journalist wearing a facemask during a recent press conference when he mocked him for "wanting to be politically correct".

And hand-in-hand with the characterisation of a public health measure as nanny-statism or a nefarious attack on liberty came the claims that facemasks themselves could harm your health.

For this, see the proliferation of internet posts relating to pulse oximeters where cynics had used them to measure supposed declines in their blood oxygen levels while sitting at home wearing masks.

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There is no actual scientific evidence that wearing masks can cause hypoxia - but plenty of evidence that catching coronavirus will. And anyone with serious breathing difficulties such as asthma is exempt anyway.

Compared to England and the US - where there have been public protests against mandatory facemasks - hostility to the rule in Scotland has not been so pronounced, perhaps because we have less of a libertarian tradition.

But among those who are opposed the same tropes emerge: dislike of being told what to do (especially by a woman - Nicola Sturgeon has been dubbed misogynistically by some of her online critics during the pandemic as 'Chief Mammy'); suspicions that it might actually be harmful; and scepticism of the evidence.

What is interesting though, is that all this follows a well-worn template. Take seatbelts, for example.

No one expects it to be routinely enforced by the police; we do it because it could potentially save our own or others' lives in a crash.

But there was a time when seatbelts were considered controversial.

The state of Wisconsin in the US was the first place to make front seatbelts a legal requirement in all cars built from 1962 onwards.

By then, there had already been fierce debate for 20 years that they might do more harm than good - for example, that they might cause internal injuries or make it more difficult to escape a vehicle which was ablaze or submerged in water. There were claims it would be safer to be "thrown clear".

There were also arguments that wearing them should be a personal choice, not a legal mandate. Some car owners cut the seatbelts out of their cars in protest.

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As recently as the 1980s most Americans did not use them, and 65 per cent were opposed to them being enforced by law. As with 'muzzles' for facemasks, seatbelts were depicted as 'tying up' drivers.

All this came against a backdrop of a landmark exposé in 1965 - 'Unsafe at Any Speed' - by consumer protection campaigner, Ralph Nader, which revealed car manufacturers' reluctance to sacrifice profits for safety features, despite mounting evidence around preventable death and injury.

By the early 1980s both the US and UK were finally making the wearing of seatbelts a legal requirement for drivers and front seat passengers. In1989, the law was extended in the UK to children in backseats, and to adults sitting in the rear from 1991.

Compliance among drivers and passengers is now well over 90% in Britain, with non-seatbelt wearers accounting for a disproportionate share of road crash fatalities - 27% in 2017.

Vaccination is another area of public health where the science around its benefits has become polluted by conspiracy theories and, of course, the persistent false claims of a link between MMR and autism.

Some of the hostility is rooted in ignorance about the science, or scepticism about the motives of "profiteering" pharmaceutical companies. But it is also a simple dislike for "being told what to do".

Immunisation is only effective in terms of creating herd immunity if enough of the population comply. If enough people are vaccinated, a given infection has little opportunity to spread.

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That not only protects those who are immunised, but those with health conditions that make vaccination too dangerous. Nonetheless, making vaccination compulsory remains controversial - but sometimes it's needed.

Even in cases where the dangers are really not in dispute - such as passive smoking - it is hard to imagine that the elimination of indoor smoking would have been achieved without a legal ban.

Like vaccination, unless enough people wear masks we won't see the benefit - and really, the purpose is to safeguard the most vulnerable whose own health perhaps might means they cannot wear one.

There is nothing to lose and, potentially, quite a lot to gain.