Irresponsible utterances by public functionaries are nothing new in Assam, more so during poll time. But what Health Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said in an interview, ruling out the necessity of even wearing a mask at a time when the contagion has resurfaced strongly across the country, including in the State, is not only irresponsible and absurd but poses a serious public health hazard. He has gone on record saying that as of now, Assam does not have any serious Covid-19 risk, and that he would tell the people when to wear masks! Being the Health Minister, it was all the more imperative that Sarma avoid making such ridiculous statements. Wearing a mask is the simplest form of precaution and has been encouraged by all health experts and authorities and the Centre ever since the pandemic had hit the country a year back. The minister has also cited his economic concerns as a factor behind his reasoning on the dispensability of wearing a mask. One wonders how the innocuous act of wearing a mask is going to hurt the economy. Yes, imposing another round of lockdown will surely bleed the economy and it is precisely in order to avert a serious situation that one needs to continue with the simple precautions like wearing a mask and hand sanitization.
With the Covid-19 situation taking a turn for the worse in the country which witnessed the highest ever single-day spike on Monday, several regions have been compelled to go under partial lockdowns. This is very disturbing not just due to the mounting health concerns but for the economy as well, as the nation was just starting to come to terms with the ill-effects of last year’s prolonged shutdown. The need, therefore, is to ensure strict adherence to all the precautions so that we do not have to put ourselves under another round of lockdown. At the same time, the Government needs to expedite and hasten the vaccination process to cover more and more people. The Centre has in the past one week issued several directives to the States in view of the worrying Covid-19 situation. All Covid protocols were thrown to the wind during the ongoing polls in the State, especially during the election rallies by different parties. This could lead to a major surge in the pandemic in the coming days. The Upper Assam districts of Dibrugarh and Tinsukia in particular have already witnessed a spurt in the number of cases but thankfully, the mortality rate has not been high. As another lockdown is to be avoided at any cost, given the staggering economic loss it would trigger and also the fact that a shutdown does not really help reduce the spread, what the authorities need to do is to accelerate the pace of vaccination and make the public stick to the basic Covid protocols of mask wearing, physical distancing and hand sanitization.