"People are not afraid of a second wave because we never had a first one."
Vladislav Sobolev is the co-founder of Hugs Over Masks, a group that feels face masks and coverings are not helping to prevent the transmission of COVID-19. In fact, he tells Vancouver Is Awesome in a phone interview that they might actually be increasing the number of cases.
While he's been selling "health and wellness" branded products for a number of years, Sobolev says it wasn't until March that he began protesting. He's an independent distributor for Herbalife Nutrition, but says his business marketing has taken a backseat to his activism of late.
Docwirenews reports that, "A case report from India has connected products from Herbalife to acute liver failure. The findings follow similar reports from other countries, including Israel, Spain, Switzerland, Iceland, Argentina and the United States. The study, published in the March-April issue of the Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hepatology, also points out the dangers associated with herbal and dietary supplements (HDSs), many of which promise results with no factual basis."
On Aug. 28, Sobolev attended the Ottawa Freedom Rally, held on Parliament Hill, to discuss the Canadian government's most recent policies during the pandemic, as well as some that may come in the future, like mandatory vaccinations. He was accompanied by other "anti-mask" speakers, including The Line Canada's Kelly Anne Wolfe and Lamont Daigle.
Not only does Sobolev feel the government's actions are misguided, but he also believes that some of Canada's top medical advisors should be held "criminally responsible" for implementing rules that have catastrophic repercussions.
"The opioid crisis has killed far more people than COVID, and there have been more suicides. Isolation is deadly," he laments. "We're fighting for everyone who doesn't have a voice."
Sobolev does not explain, however, how COVID-19, a virus, can be directly compared to the overdose crisis.
In addition to his belief that current COVID restrictions are creating loneliness, Sobolev says that what is happening in Canada is similar to the uprising of Nazi Germany, as well as the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia. He asks, "Why is there such an isolation between elderly and the young right now under the pretence of COVlD and safety?
"It has nothing to do with that. It has everything to do with people not being able to pass on the knowledge. So the older generation cannot pass on knowledge to the children and tell them what's happening right now...you should be very alarmed and afraid."
The Government of Canada has repeatedly stated that older adults and people with underlying conditions - such as heart disease, hypertension, lung disease, diabetes and cancer - are most at risk for developing severe complications from the illness. As a result, health officials implemented lock down measures to protect older people in long-term care facilities from falling ill.
While his group, Hugs Over Masks, share a number of common beliefs, such as the anti-mask sentiment, Sobolev underscores that they are not a political movement. Instead, he says that, "this is a spiritual war above all" and that they are, "fighting for humanity." He adds that they also believe in peace, love, and positivity.
"There's a huge awakening happening right now. People are ready to fight for their freedom," he says.
Sobolev also asks how the homeless population in Vancouver hasn't been hit by the virus when there is, "no sanitation, no social distancing and no masking."
In June, Glacier Media investigative reporter Mike Howell wrote a story about how there have had been no COVID-19 deaths or outbreaks in Downtown Eastside shelters since the pandemic was declared in March. He reported that Dr. Patricia Daly, the chief medical health officer for Vancouver Coastal Health, pointed to several factors that had, so far, prevented deaths and outbreaks in shelters in the Downtown Eastside.
Daly said creating more space in Vancouver shelters for guests by opening up community centres for homeless people was a factor. So was a robust testing strategy set up before COVID-19 reached the Downtown Eastside.
The health agency’s use of a mobile van and a dedicated clinic for testing people coupled with proactive work to identify infected people, isolate them and follow up with their contacts has been the difference in keeping the infection rate low, she said.
Furthermore, Howell noted that the rate of transmission in shelters across the country was drastically higher.
On Aug. 24, Hugs Over Masks gathered outside of Metrotown SkyTrain Station to protest TransLink's new mandatory mask policy.
In a post on its social media channels, the anti-mask group encouraged its supporters to board the SkyTrain at any station at 10 a.m. They were instructed not to wear face masks, and to travel to Metrotown Station to meet the rest of the protestors. Once there, they planned to, "educate [the] public outside the station about the exemptions and real danger and harm from masks in public."
Many of the signs read phrases like "Love over fear" and "Freedom is essential," and nearly all of the demonstrators wore white t-shirts that had an image of a face mask with a red slash across it.
Sobolev has also shared a video of when he was asked to leave a Shoppers Drug Mart post office for refusing to wear a face mask. In his caption, he writes that, "Discrimination is real. Sad sad sad world."
Although Transit Police will be able to enforce a rule or signage requiring face coverings on transit, the initial focus of this policy will be on awareness and education. Frontline employees may inform or remind customers to wear a face covering when on-board transit vehicles.
“Transit is an important service for many British Columbians. TransLink’s decision to make masks mandatory on their vehicles will help make transit safer for passengers, and we can make it safer for our fellow passengers when we wear a mask,” said Provincial Health Officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry. “Find one that's comfortable and make time to get used to wearing them and taking them on and off as needed. Those of us who are able should be using masks on transit all the time. I do and I expect others to as well.”
The mandatory mask policy is part of TransLink’s Safe Operating Action Plan. This comprehensive plan increases cleaning and sanitizing of transit vehicles and hubs, increases service levels, and creates space between customers where possible.
In June, the transportation agency launched a new campaign aimed at encouraging the use of face coverings and non-medical masks on Metro Vancouver’s transit system. As part of the ‘Wearing is Caring’ campaign, it is handing out more than 15,000 TransLink branded masks at key transit hubs.
The Canadian Centre for Disease Control states that, "Wearing a homemade non-medical mask/facial covering in the community is recommended for periods of time when it is not possible to consistently maintain a 2-metre physical distance from others, particularly in crowded public settings, such as:
- shopping areas
- public transportation
Public health officials will make recommendations based on a number of factors, including the rates of infection and/or transmission in the community. In some jurisdictions, the use of masks in many indoor public spaces and on public transit is now mandatory. You can check with your local public health authority on the requirements for your location.
When worn properly, a person wearing a non-medical mask or face covering can reduce the spread of his or her own infectious respiratory droplets.
For more information on how to use a face mask or covering to prevent the spread of COVID-19, visit HERE.
- With files from Mike Howell.