No mask compulsory! As Indian states lift mask restrictions, here’s what doctors warnPublished on: 1 April 2022, 19:07 pm IST
Recently, we saw a massive shuffle in Covid-19 guidelines as Mumbai chose to lift mask restrictions. As Covid-19 cases continue to decline, after Mumbai and Telangana, the national capital followed suit. The Delhi Disaster Management Authority (DDMA) relaxed the mask rules by saying that there will be no fine for not wearing masks in public places. In view of the sharp decline in new Covid-19 cases, many states are saying that wearing masks is no longer mandatory. However, experts and doctors are at odds with this laxity in protective measures against coronavirus.
As states relax the penalty rules for not wearing a mask, experts are divided on the looming and far from gone danger of Covid-19. With new variants of Covid-19, Deltacron and many variants to come, it has raised the eyebrows of the healthcare professionals.
HealthShots spoke to a few medical experts to know their views on the latest mask relaxations and we aren’t shocked but concerned!
Here’s how doctors respond to Indian states lifting mask restrictions:
1. No masks necessary only if the entire population is vaccinated
Dr Amit Gupta, a consultant Neonatologist and Pediatrician, Motherhood Hospitals, Noida, says, “Even if the number of cases is going down and many hospitals are empty with no Covid-19 cases, rather than dismissing it, we must be alert, aware and treat it as a worldwide threat. For individuals to go without masks, we must assess if the population of your city are completely vaccinated.”
“Many states are attempting to resume normalcy, but the fact is that the virus has had a significant social impact in terms of mortality and hospitalization, and there is no assurance that another variant will not emerge in the future.”
“This pandemic will be with us for a long time, and we will have to deal with ongoing outbreaks owing to new variants. At this time, the best we can do is be prepared with the tools we have, such as getting completely vaccinated, including the booster dosage, testing in case of any symptoms, hand washing on a regular basis, and wearing a mask while in public places,” adds Dr Gupta.
2. Wearing a mask may protect against other seasonal illness too
A senior consultant, Internal Medicine, at Medanta Hospital Gurugram, Dr Vikas Deswal warns us about the looming risk of coronavirus after these new changes in Covid-19 guidelines. “I know that Delhi and Maharashtra have planned to lift the restrictions on wearing a mask. However, I feel we should wear masks when we are in crowded places and public areas. At home you don’t necessarily need to be wearing one. The reason I am saying you need to wear a mask outside is because of the risk of spreading communicable infections, not just Covid-19. Masks help us prevent the spread of other air-borne diseases too”, says Dr Deswal.
2. Any minor surge in Covid-19 cases will be brutal in absence of mask
Dr. Radhika Banka, a consultant, Respiratory Physician says, “We know that masking has played a vital role in limiting the spread of the pandemic globally.
With masking becoming optional in India, there is a worry about surge of cases. Given our high population density, overcrowding, any minor surge in cases will be amplified in the absence of masking.”
“Rather than a blanket removal of masks, we should still implement masking in enclosed spaces as chances of spread of infection is highest in these areas.” adds Dr Banka.
4. Wear a mask for the ones at increased risk
Dr Amitabha Ghosh, a senior consultant Internal medicine, Manipal Hospital, Gurugram, says “The government in some states have definitely lifted restrictions for wearing masks but they haven’t said that people should not wear masks at all. I advise that people should wear masks in crowded places. Though many of us are now vaccinated, there are still vulnerable people like those who have diabetes, kidney disease, and are immunocompromised and should wear masks. Our safety is always in our own hands. We understand that people have been wearing masks for the last two years and now they are feeling fatigued wearing them, but Covid-19 is not completely out yet.”
5. Mask mandates not necessary but awareness is
“Masks prevent transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and there is no doubt on that . However, when the right mask is worn in the right way, we may expect a protection through it. This tends to only happen when masks are worn voluntarily.” suggests Dr Lancelot Pinto, a consultant Pulmonologist and Epidemiologist.
“I think there is a need to sensitize individuals to not stop wearing masks when they are ill. This is also necessary to protect others. Especially, when they are in the middle of high-risk settings such as crowded spaces and indoor spaces. Mandating masks by law was never the answer; education and helping people to make the right decisions and choose to wear a mask is. The move to ease masking restrictions is welcome.”
“There will be newer variants which appear, and we will need to watch out for those that are more virulent (cause more severe disease). We need to ensure that vulnerable individuals are protected with vaccinations, and boosted, when warranted. I do not think we should sensationalize newer variants and cause panic, unless they are indeed variants which are likely to cause more severe disease,” says Dr Pinto.
Currently, there is a fine of INR 500 for not wearing masks in public places. However, with a new set of guidelines, DDMA will also issue an advisory for wearing masks voluntarily. While restrictions imposed due to coronavirus infection are being relaxed, one must still be cautious of the new variants despite tall claims of herd immunity. Wash your hands frequently, maintain social distancing and try to wear masks whenever you’re stepping out!