As per the centre’s guidelines, fines relating to the use of masks, arguably the strongest symbol of the covid-19 pandemic, have been lifted. This comes more than two years after strict lockdowns to stop the pathogen from spreading was ordered.
With infection numbers waning, Maharashtra and New Delhi among a few states/UTs have made wearing masks in public places optional, withdrawing a regulation that had been put in place since March 2020.
West Bengal and Himachal Pradesh have also withdrawn most of the restrictions. These decisions were taken following notifications from the National Disaster Management Authority and the Union Health Ministry last Friday. Sections of India’s disaster management law meant to give the central government the authority to make and enforce pandemic-related rules no longer exist now. In other words, the orders invoked under provisions of the Disaster Management Act expired and Covid-19 ceased, for all legal purposes, being a disaster in the country. This also means, Covid-19 has stopped being a threat and the decision by the centre coincides with the fact that after reopening, there has been no uptick in new infections. Does it mean that covid-19 is over and that the Sars-CoV-2’s ability to sicken people is over? The answer may not be easy to say in black and white. Some experts’ say that the easing of the restrictions was premature, underscoring that a new surge in cases in countries such as China and South Korea besides in parts of Europe, triggered by new variants, was happening. The World Health Organisation’s latest advisory recommended the use of the mask to bring the pandemic under control. It can be stressed, however, that in India, the rule regarding wearing the mask in public places was being only nominally followed, especially by people who were more law-fearing or conscientious or mindful than others about their own health. It was likely, thus, that in the states where this rule has been removed, such people would continue to wear masks in public places. For many others such as those who suffer from medical problems or work in labour-intensive sectors, the removal of this rule will come as a relief, especially with the onset of summer. The people must recall debilitating costs. A huge number of precious lives were claimed by the virus. Besides, the pathogen led to an unprecedented impact on earnings, and severely hit the clock on the education of children, badly impacting social and psychological development of millions of pupils.