No Mask, Yes Entry! Has The Pandemic Ended In India?

Maharashtra, in spite of being the worst affected state in India in terms of COVID-19 infections and fatalities, has still become the first state in the country to make wearing of masks ‘not compulsory’ with effect from April 2, 2022 (Gudi Padva, Marathi New Year Day) apart from lifting of all other restrictions and COVID-appropriate behavior norms. This is followed in real haste by the Delhi government today by waiving off the penalties for not wearing masks. The decisions seem to have been taken to give the much-needed relief to near-normal citizens from the hottest summer months ahead, rather than having no concern for a possible fourth wave. You see, the amount of sweating behind the masks has to be avoided somehow! The Mamata Banerjee-led West Bengal is wiser to lift all other curbs except for the norms of strictly wearing masks and observing sanitization cum hand hygiene in all public places.


Obviously, the experts are divided on the issue—some supporting the move saying you’d have to come out of it one day citing the examples of countries in the West while others say it’s still too early considering the fresh fourth wave in China, South Korea, Hong Kong and in some European countries. The supporting experts also justify the move by saying that more than 70% of the Indian population are double-immunized with vaccines and also with prior infections. We’d like to continue with the latter group to look into the ‘mask matter’ more closely.


I’ve been wondering and writing in these pages since the outbreak of the pandemic as to why most people consider wearing the mask as some kind of bondage or a loss of their basic human rights. This mental frame is applicable not just to India but to most other countries including the most enlightened West. Of course! there are clear ‘physical’ disadvantages: that the masks hide your beauty; that they give you a lot of discomfort; they make your walks a bit difficult in terms of breathing freely; and that they have to be taken out repeatedly while eating out.


But what about the advantages? You only need to wear it in crowded public places and indoor auditoriums; you’ve already started binge parties and eating out with a vengeance since months when you can enter any eating joint and then take off your masks to enjoy food and drinks; you’ve also started spending your weekends with a vengeance too, going out to all tourist places and enjoying life as earlier; you can stay at home in full unmasked comfort and invite all kin and friends to join you inside, unmasked too. So, why the accumulated outrage against the harmless masks?


In polluted cities like Delhi, Mumbai and many others the mask can be worn for that protection too, it really becomes handy to ward off the polluting agents from entering your respiratory system; you also must’ve observed that during the 2+ year pandemic times people are not having common flus as frequently as compared to earlier years and this is a direct result of wearing masks and following hygiene norms strictly. So, what’s the harm in continuing to wear masks irrespective of whether the pandemic has really ended or the fourth wave coming or not? At the moment, the numbers of daily infections in India are less than 1500 with almost no fatalities in most states, and these numbers do suggest that the pandemic is fully under control in the country. 


I’d hold the respective state governments responsible for acting in haste without bothering much about the biggest crisis ever to befall humankind. Another question comes to the mind: why not just waive off the penalties while still keeping the mask mandate in place? Well, government advisories and directions still hold water for the law-abiding citizens, barring the anti-mask elements who never bothered to wear it anytime earlier too.


Personally speaking, I’ll continue to wear masks and also will inspire others in family and outside to do so. It doesn’t just mean that we should be worried about a possible COVID-19 Omicron BA.2 sub-variant eager to penetrate out shield of immunity; it simply means that we can still have the other advantages by doing so. Besides, at the national level the Government of India is yet to announce similar relaxations, apart from lifting all other restrictions from the 31st of March, 2022. Stay safe!


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