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COVID-19 Pandemic: Here’s What Experts Have To Say About Lifting The Mandate On Face Masks By Some States

With a dip in COVID-19 cases, state governments are now making wearing of a face mask optional. Is it the end of the pandemic?

COVID-19 Pandemic: Here’s What Experts Have To Say About Lifting The Mandate On Face Masks By Some States
Wearing a face mask is one of the COVID-19 precautionary measures
Highlights
  • 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.

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.

Also Read: Current Covid Vaccines May Protect From Severe Disease Caused By Omicron: Study

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.”

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!”

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.

Also Read: Novavax’s COVID-19 Vaccine Covovax Gets Emergency Use Nod For Adolescents Aged 12-17 In India

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.

Also Read: Covishield Dose Gap Reduced To 8-16 Weeks From 12-16

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.

Also Read: Expansion Of Vaccination Drive To Include Minors Does Not Pose Safety Risk To Recipients, Government Tells Supreme Court

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.

Also Read: Vaccine For 12-14 Age Group: Delhi Parents Feel Relieved, Say Apt Move Ahead Of School Reopening

NDTV – Dettol have been working towards a clean and healthy India since 2014 via Banega Swachh India initiative, which is helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. The campaign aims to highlight the inter-dependency of humans and the environment, and of humans on one another with the focus on One Health, One Planet, One Future – Leaving No One Behind. It stresses on the need to take care of, and consider, everyone’s health in India – especially vulnerable communities – the LGBTQ populationindigenous people, India’s different tribes, ethnic and linguistic minorities, people with disabilities, migrants, geographically remote populations, gender and sexual minorities. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (WaterSanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign will continue to raise awareness on the same along with focussing on the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children, fight malnutrition, mental wellbeing, self care, science and health, adolescent health & gender awareness. Along with the health of people, the campaign has realised the need to also take care of the health of the eco-system. Our environment is fragile due to human activity,  that is not only over-exploiting available resources, but also generating immense pollution as a result of using and extracting those resources. The imbalance has also led to immense biodiversity loss that has caused one of the biggest threats to human survival – climate change. It has now been described as a “code red for humanity.” The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollutionwaste managementplastic banmanual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene. Banega Swasth India will also be taking forward the dream of Swasth Bharat, the campaign feels that only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and the country can become a Swasth or healthy India.

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