- Wearing a face mask not mandatory in Maharashtra and Telangana anymore
- No fine for not wearing face masks in public places in Delhi: DDMA
- Experts believe it’s a timely decision as COVID-19 cases have reduced
New Delhi: The Maharashtra Government on Thursday (March 31) announced the lifting of all COVID restrictions imposed under the Disaster Management Act and Epidemic Diseases Act in the state starting April 2. Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray himself shared the news on the microblogging site Twitter and wrote, “All COVID restrictions in Maharashtra will be lifted, as we bring in the new year this Gudi Padwa!”, referring to the spring festival to mark the traditional New Year for Marathi and Konkani Hindus.
All COVID restrictions in Maharashtra will be lifted, as we bring in the new year this Gudi Padwa!
— CMO Maharashtra (@CMOMaharashtra) March 31, 2022
The decision to do away with all COVID restrictions after two years was taken at a cabinet meeting chaired by CM Thackeray, informed the state Health Minister Rajesh Tope.
Maharashtra was one of the worst affected states due to Novel Coronavirus in the country but Gudi Padwa has brought in good news for the people of the state. Sharing more details about COVID protocols, Mr Tope said, “The decision to use the mask is voluntary and citizens should use the mask as a precaution, taking the corona vaccine. For the last two years, the state of Maharashtra has been successfully tackling the Corona crisis.”
मास्क वापरण्याचा निर्णय ऐच्छिक असून नागरिकांनी खबरदारी म्हणून मास्क वापरणे, कोरोना प्रतिबंधक लस घेणे आवश्यक आहे.
गुढीपाडवा म्हणजे नववर्षाची सुरुवात. गेली दोन वर्षे महाराष्ट्र राज्य कोरोना संकटाचा यशस्वीपणे मुकाबला करते आहे.
— Rajesh Tope (@rajeshtope11) March 31, 2022
Mr Tope expressed gratitude towards healthcare workers and frontline warriors who were bent over backward to save lives and limit the transmission of the virus. He added, “Many thanks to all the doctors in the state, all the frontline staff, the police, all the government employees and the citizens who worked hard to keep the people of the state safe during the Corona period!”
कोरोना काळात राज्यातील जनतेला सुरक्षित ठेवण्यासाठी मेहनत करणारे राज्यातील सर्व डॉक्टर्स, सर्व फ्रंटलाईन कर्मचारी, पोलीस यंत्रणा, सर्व शासकीय कर्मचारी व नागरिक यांचे मनापासून आभार.!
— Rajesh Tope (@rajeshtope11) March 31, 2022
A dip in daily COVID-19 cases has pushed other states to follow the suit. The Delhi Disaster Management Authority (DDMA) decided on Friday (April 1) that there will be no fine for not wearing face masks in public places in the national capital. The order will be effective immediately. The DDMA, however, has advised people to continue the use of masks in crowded places.
As reported by the news agency PTI, the West Bengal government has withdrawn all curbs related to COVID-19 starting March 31 midnight. In a notification, the government, however, stressed on the use of masks and hygiene maintenance.
Accordingly, it is hereby notified that restrictions as currently in force by aforesaid orders are hereby withdrawn. However, advisory in respect of health and hygiene protocols including wearing of masks at all times, hand hygiene and sanitisation of public places shall continue to be strictly observed until further order, it stated.
Telangana government has also decided to lift all COVID-19- related restrictions, including the mandatory wearing of face masks. Face masks will be voluntary, except for the elderly, those with comorbidities and pregnant women, who have been asked to continue following the Covid-appropriate behaviour.
Wearing A Mask Not Mandatory: Is The COVID-19 Pandemic Over?
These decisions come at a time when India has been reporting less than 2,000 daily COVID-19 cases since March 20. But is it the right time to remove all COVID protocols, especially masking? Dr Chandrakant Lahariya, a consultant physician and Epidemiologist based in New Delhi is of the opinion that it’s about time wearing a face mask as a defence against COVID-19 is made voluntary. He explained,
We need to remember that masks cut down the transmission. When the transmission is already low, what will it cut down? The role of a mask is not the same as it was a year ago. Having said that, indoor spaces like shopping malls, where there are high chances of transmission, one should consider wearing a face mask.
Sharing similar thoughts, Dr Hemlata Arora, Senior Consultant, Internal Medicine and Infectious Diseases, Nanavati Max Super Speciality Hospital, Mumbai said,
At present, it is a good decision to do away with mandatory masking. After two years of restrictions, we have adequate knowledge about the infection, disease manifestation, immunity and consequences. While COVID-19 as an illness is here to stay, the virulence has decreased substantially and can be managed like any other, similar contagious or infectious respiratory conditions.
The COVID-19 case tally in the country hasn’t dropped down to zero. On April 1, India logged over 1,300 fresh cases and 28 COVID-related deaths. The active case tally stands at 13,672. If we are still reporting cases then why is wearing of a face mask not mandatory in some states anymore? Dr Lahariya said that we will continue to report cases in hundreds and the more we test, the more we will find cases. He added,
Even if one gets the infection, it won’t develop into a severe disease. It’s about time the centre decides to lift up the mandate on masks.
To this, Dr Arora added that like any other infectious disease, ebbs and flows will remain in the disease prevalence which can be managed by our strong healthcare infrastructure without extraordinary restrictions.
Doing away with the mask mandate will send this very assuring message to the general public. It will extend confidence to the public regarding our ability to manage the illness, she said.
Contrary to this, Dr Rommel Tickoo, Director, Internal Medicine, Max Super Speciality Hospital, Saket drew attention to rising COVID-19 cases in other parts of the world. He said,
Mask has a big role in controlling the spread of COVID-19. We should still wear them in crowded places. COVID-19 is still not over, we have to continue taking precautions as lots of countries are going through a spike in COVID cases.
COVID Precautions To Still Follow
Though COVID outbreaks have mellowed in India, we still need to be cautious, especially immunocompromised people need to take precautions. Dr Lahariya recommends self-assessment of the situation like if someone is unvaccinated or has comorbidities, they should consider wearing a mask, specifically in crowded areas.
Remember, it is not unidirectional. One should keep a watch on their settings and a track of epidemic situation, he said.
Since COVID-19 is a respiratory disease of a highly contagious nature, people with upper respiratory symptoms need to be careful, said Dr Arora and added,
Immunocompromised individuals should continue to take precautions like masking and not going into crowded places. Vaccination schedules should be completed as soon as possible if not already done.
WHO And Centre Ask To Continue With Masking
The COVID-19 cases in India are on a decline but various parts of the world are seeing a surge. China has put its most populous city of Shanghai under a two-stage lockdown from Monday (March 28); France has been witnessing the number of patients hospitalised due to coronavirus rise increasingly. Similarly, other European countries and nations in various other parts of the world are facing a massive surge in cases fueled by the Omicron BA.2 sub-variant, fearing another wave of COVID-19 to advance.
As per the World Health Organization (WHO) Chief Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, there are three possible scenarios for how the pandemic will evolve this year. The most likely scenario is that the COVID-19 virus continues to evolve, but the severity of the disease it causes reduces over time as immunity increases due to vaccination and infection. In the best-case scenario, we may see less severe variants emerge, and boosters or new formulations of vaccines won’t be necessary. Whereas in the worst-case scenario, a more virulent and highly transmissible COVID-19 virus variant emerges, the WHO Chief said.
On Wednesday (March 30), WHO released an updated Strategic Preparedness, Readiness and Response Plan which sets out the strategic adjustments that every country needs to make to address the drivers of SARS-CoV-2 transmission, lessen the impact of COVID, and end the global emergency. In its plan, WHO urges the nations to invest in five core components including masking.
We have all the tools we need to bring this pandemic under control: we can prevent transmission with masks, distancing, hand hygiene and ventilation; And we can save lives by ensuring everyone has access to tests, treatments and vaccines, said Dr Ghebreyesus.
In a social media post on Friday (April 1), the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare reminded people to wear a face mask.
— Ministry of Health (@MoHFW_INDIA) April 1, 2022
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