The difference between "the" and no "the" is the same as normal. "The" indicates a specific noun which should already be clear in the context, while a noun without "the" indicates the noun in general, or some of that noun.
In this case, "the authorities" refers either to the specific authorities mentioned previously, or to the authorities with the power to bring back masks. Without "the", bare "authorities" means "some authorities", which the reader will presumably also understand to be those same authorities. So it makes no difference at all in literal meaning.
With "the", there's a slight nuance of power, while without "the" the feeling is just "some people who happen to be in authority". So someone upset by this is more likely to say "the authorities", and someone pleased with this is more likely to say, "authorities", although this part is not a rule at all, just a preference.