Keep masks on even if it’s optional, say Covid task force members
Experts say the use of masks is one of the few techniques that have effectively helped in controlling the spread of the disease
Mumbai: The Maharashtra government on Thursday announced the end to all Covid-19 curbs including the mandatory use of face masks. The state Covid task force members, however, supported the use of face masks till the global burden of the disease reduces considerably.
Critical care specialist and member of the state’s Covid-19 task force Dr Rahul Pandit said the use of masks is one of the few techniques that have effectively helped in controlling the spread of the disease. “We must not forget that the global burden of Covid-19 continues to be high, even as cases in India and Maharashtra have come down. The risk remains as long as the virus circulates in large numbers anywhere across the globe,” said Pandit. “Using masks is in our own interest,” he added.
The penalties for flouting the mask-wearing norm were collected under both these Acts and thus, will be revoked too. Additional municipal commissioner Suresh Kakani said the civic body will now focus on mask advisories and awareness, instead of collecting fines. “We will move into a participatory or a compliance model where the public will have to act responsibly,” he said. Since April 2020, the city has collected over ₹91 crore as fines for flouting masking norms.
“It is not yet the time to say that the pandemic is over,” said infectious disease expert Dr Om Srivastava, also a member of the state’s task force. “China, Korea, Hong Kong and many other parts of the world are going through their worst outbreaks. Some of their cities have a very high number of fatalities too. The risk of an outbreak in India, therefore, continues to lurk, and we must protect ourselves by using masks,” said Srivastava.
Masks act as a barrier that controls the spread of droplets let out while talking, coughing or sneezing. HT has also learnt that the state task force was also not in favour of removing the mask mandate.
“Masks are a cheap but important form of protection,” said Rajneesh Bhardwaj, associate professor, department of mechanical engineering at Indian Institute of Technology-Bombay (IIT-B). Bhardwaj has been studying droplet transmission in various settings. One of his studies published in October 2020 stated that the cough of a Covid-19 infected person can contaminate a large volume of surrounding air. The size of cough clouds is nearly seven times seven times smaller when one wears a surgical mask and nearly 23 times smaller with an N95 mask, the study stated.
According to Bhardwaj, with international travel resuming fully, the risk of the cases rising suddenly remains. “Once the mask mandate is removed, it will be difficult to enforce it again, if and when the cases surge. Now, it has become a habit, even if it is a bit inconvenient,” said Bhardwaj.
A section of medical experts also believes that the risk of transmission is high only when the virus is widely in circulation. Maharashtra’s weekly positivity rate has come down to 0.42% and the state has been recording a little over 100 cases every day since the past week.
“A certain kind of mask fatigue has set in,” said Dr Tanu Singhal, infectious disease expert from Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital. “Even those who are seen wearing masks, are not wearing them properly. It is okay to do away with the mask mandate now that the circulation of the virus is extremely low. However, people with impaired health should use them. People can also continue to keep them on in crowded areas such as malls, trains etc,” she said.