AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - A handful of social media stars and influencers have publicly flouted rules aimed at containing the coronavirus pandemic and even encouraged others to do so, and authorities from the Netherlands to the United States are not happy.
The online dissent comes as the number of deaths from COVID-19 in the United States passed 200,000 and many countries in Europe are grappling with a second wave of infections.
“I say ‘NO’ to all measures until the government can verifiably justify this policy,” a group of young Dutch entertainers wrote in a series of Instagram posts coordinated with organisers of protests against the restrictions.
The online celebrities have several million followers on Instagram between them.
They include 21-year-old singer and Instagram model Famke Louise, who took part in a Dutch government campaign promoting social distancing rules in the spring but has now switched sides.
“We can only get control of the government if we stick together,” she posted on Monday night. “I’m opting out.”
Dutch Health Minister Hugo de Jonge, who is battling new infections that jumped at a rate of more than 60% in the Netherlands this week to pass 100,000, criticised that attitude.
“We have to ask questions and being critical is certainly allowed, but just saying ‘I am opting out’ isn’t an option,” he said. “It’s irresponsible because they have huge influence on young people. We need our youth, we need everyone to keep the virus under control.”
The debate in the Netherlands is playing out the world over between people frustrated about restrictions on their lives and those who support governments’ attempts to stop the virus, which has infected more than 31 million people.
Popular TikTok “influencers” Bryce Hall and Blake Gray were charged in the United States for throwing parties in Los Angeles at which hundreds of revellers were pictured ignoring social distancing rules.
Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer said that with a combined 19 million followers on TikTok, the stars should be “modelling good behaviour - not brazenly violating the law and posting videos about it.”
In Britain, Oasis guitarist Noel Gallagher has voiced doubts about the effectiveness of wearing masks, while Van Morrison is releasing three songs to protest against “the way the government has taken away personal freedoms,” his website said.
He is donating profits from the tracks to musicians who have suffered financial hardship because of the coronavirus, according to the BBC.
But flouting government rules faces a backlash of its own, and social media campaigns including the #WearADamnMask hashtag have attracted support from major stars.
U.S. actors Bryan Cranston and Tom Hanks, both of whom contracted the virus and recovered, have also made public appeals for people to wear masks as a courtesy to others.
Reporting by Anthony Deutsch in Amsterdam; Additional reporting by Emma Pinedo in Madrid; Editing by Mike Collett-White
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