Delhi’s mask mandate should not have been lifted, say experts
While experts stood divided over the reintroduction of fines for violating the mask norms, a majority of doctors believed that mandatory masking could help control the rise in Covid infections.
The Delhi Disaster Management Authority’s (DDMA) decision to make masks mandatory in public places has been welcomed by health experts in the Capital who said that with the Covid-19 infections steadily rising in the city masking and social distancing needed to be reinforced.
While experts stood divided over the reintroduction of fines for violating the mask norms, a majority of doctors believed that mandatory masking could help control the rise in Covid infections. Many also said that the earlier decision to remove fines on mask usage sent the wrong message to the public and this laxity could have been one of the reasons behind the current spike in cases.
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Dr Vikas Maurya, director and the head of the department of pulmonology at Fortis Hospital, Shalimar Bagh, said that when the government first decided to remove fines on mask-wearing they should have stressed its use, especially for senior citizens and people with comorbidities who are at a higher risk of contracting the Covid infection and developing a serious condition from it.
He said that this relaxation gave people the leeway to completely do away with masks.
“The message should be that mask-wearing will keep you safe. The reintroduction of fines might create some panic among the public, and I will not get into the details of whether a monetary deterrence would be the right thing to do, but the messaging should be clear that the pandemic has not ended yet and we still need to keep our guard up,” said Dr Maurya.
Dr Madhu Handa, medical director at the Moolchand Hospital, said that while fines were a way to get people to abide by mask-wearing in crowded public places, the imposition should not be mindless. For instance, she said that while mask-wearing was imperative in crowded public, places especially in indoor settings, it did not make sense for a single driver in a car to wear a mask.
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To be sure, that rule has already been done away with.
“Precaution in important. However, this being said, the spike in Covid infections is nothing to be worried about because this is how this virus behaves and we will have to get used to restrictions getting tightened during peak periods and hospital beds being dedicated for Covid patients, and similarly when the cases decline to relax the curbs. These ups and downs are normal and are being seen in countries the world over,” said Dr Handa.
Taking cognisance of the increasing number of Covid infections in the Capital, DDMA on Wednesday decided to reintroduce fines of ₹500 for not wearing masks in public places. HT reported on April 18 that masks mandates were likely to return in the city, and fines were expected to return. In a previous meeting on March 31, DDMA had removed these fines.
Meanwhile, Covid numbers are continuing to rise in the city, with 1,009 new infections being reported on Wednesday. The test positivity rate was 5.7%, according to government data.
Dr KK Talwar, former president of the Medical Council of India and who also headed the Covid-19 task force of Punjab, also said that masks should be made a part of everyday life now.
“After the outbreak of the 2003 severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars), people in Thailand made masks a part of their everyday lives and continued to do so even after infections went down. There is no harm in continuing to wear masks as a precautionary measure against the infection. The governments need to be vigilant of the numbers,” said Dr Talwar.