The necessary U-turn in Delhi is a lesson for the rest of India
The Delhi Disaster Management Authority did the right thing today by bringing back the mask mandate for public places and the fine of Rs 500 for violating it. This begs the question, have states removed or diluted mask mandates prematurely? Yes. In Delhi for example, which is currently experiencing an increase in the number of Covid infections, some experts link this directly to the DDMA’s March 31 decision that there would no longer be a fine for not wearing a mask.
Admittedly, the government also said at the time that this did not mean it endorsed people not wearing masks, and that it would indeed run intensive campaigns to promote mask-wearing. But this kind of mixed messaging is extremely poor governance of the pandemic. India, unlike say several East Asian countries, did not have a pre-existing masking culture. It took long months of sustained efforts by various social actors to persuade the masses of the need for masking against Covid. To rush to add doubts to this fragile matrix was very irresponsible.
Of the other states where an increase in infections has now been reported by the Centre, Haryana, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh also removed the penalty for not wearing a mask in public places earlier this month. The trend of infections since then has forced Haryana and Uttar Pradesh to reinstate mask mandates in some districts. But for both individuals and law enforcement agencies, this unequal mandate is once again confusing. More than two years into the current pandemic, all governments should have internalized the importance of clear messaging.
Read also: Delhi makes it compulsory to wear a mask again, fine of Rs 500 for offenders
The manner in which the issue of school closures has once again returned to the table in NCR is a reminder of all that is at stake in the premature abandonment of the first and cheapest line of defense against Covid- 19. Fortunately, the overall caseload continues to be low and there are no worrying signs on the hospitalization front either. By putting the guard back in place in a timely manner, we can hopefully get back to safe ground.
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