Dozens of people have succumbed to Covid-19 in the United Kingdom even after receiving the initial dose of the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine. Bharat Biotech, the Indian manufacturer of the vaccine Covaxin, has advised people who are immuno-compromised or on medication that affects the immune system to not take the vaccine. Medical experts across the world from time to time have urged people to be cautious even after being vaccinated against Covid-19, because vaccines are not cent per cent effective. They take weeks to build up immunity, that too after the second shot. In short, there are still many unknowns, particularly when it comes to virus transmission after vaccination. In light of this fact, prevention appears to be the best cure available, so far.
With the anti-Covid vaccination drive seeing a slow start globally, many countries are seeing a fresh wave of infections. The lockdown continues in several countries while many others have brought the lockdown back to combat the pandemic. Where restrictions on the movement of people have been lifted, the authorities have made wearing masks and social distancing mandatory in view of the new Covid variant wave. Sweden, which had been avoiding putting curbs on the movement of its citizens in contrast to other European countries, has now brought in tougher rules for social distancing at shopping complexes, private gatherings, gyms, etc. Besides, the authorities in Sweden have warned that they may have to close businesses if the situation worsens. This is indication of how much even the most advanced countries are still afraid of the novel coronavirus. Japan on the 14th of this month declared a one-month emergency in its capital Tokyo and three neighbouring prefectures after daily Covid-19 positive cases hit a record in the capital. People there believe that the daily positive cases hit a record because the government avoided imposing wider restrictions.
Keeping in view the above global circumstances, wearing a mask in public places becomes one’s prime responsibility. But the fact is that the general public never accepts any responsibility. If someone takes that responsibility, people start questioning him or her. During the lockdown, many were and are still believing that wearing masks helps to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus, but there are also many who don’t believe this or who don’t have any knowledge of how the infection spreads from one person to another. Initially when Covid was on the rise in Kashmir, in every corner people were talking about the dreadful coronavirus and whatsoever control measures the experts were suggesting, everyone was following the same. In addition to social distancing and avoiding handshakes, wearing of masks in public places was one of the measures suggested by experts. At first everyone started wearing mask in large gatherings but with the passage of time people started ignoring the mask. Those who continued to wear a mask started facing criticism everywhere.
A friend and I were travelling in a public vehicle in the last month of 2020. Only three persons including me and my friend were wearing a mask out of ten passengers in the vehicle. After travelling about 70 kilometers, all the seven passengers, who were quite unknown to us and all of whom were government employees, started questioning us on why we were wearing a mask? They believed that Covid had ended and people were no more falling prey to the dreadful infection. One of them said, and I quote, “Covid gayoo ker taam khatm, tuhi kya pagal gimet mask lagava chu?” (Covid has gone a long time ago; are you mad that you are still wearing a mask?) The three of us tried our best to convince them about the benefits of wearing a mask but they didn’t agree with us. We then told them to be as they were but not to interfere with anyone else wearing a mask.
It is easy to point the finger towards others but it is tough to point the finger at ourselves. The other day I was talking with one of my research guides in the university about the same. He shared with me that he has also had to deal with people like those obstinate fellow passengers of mine, and all one can really do is to let go. You may not like it but you can’t control other people or their behaviour. If other people choose to believe otherwise or if they don’t take any responsibility, there isn’t much one can do about it. But what about the consequences which a whole community has to face because of a few people’s ignorance?
During the ongoing pandemic, the J&K administration issued advisories and orders from time to time and stressed upon the general public to wear face mask in public places. Many times a fine was also realised for not wearing masks, but such actions from the authorities lasted only a short period of time. The orders which are issued from time to time remain confined to publication and are not implemented on the ground. The Srinagar Municipal Corporation (SMC) in the last week of December issued a circular in which it was stated that the SMC will enforce sections of Municipal Corporation (MC) Act 2000 from January 1 within Srinagar city limits to make wearing a mask in public places mandatory. Moreover, it was written that those who will not wear mask will be fined Rs 200 on first violation and Rs 500 on repeat violation. On the next two days, squads of SMC were seen in every corner of Srinagar to enforce the wearing of face mask, but since then no one from the SMC has been seen anywhere in the city. Were the chances of the virus spreading only there in those two days of the new year? Many people can now be seen roaming in the city without masks in broad daylight. The authorities at the SMC turn towards them a blind eye.
People always make excuses or have a reason for everything they do. They never acknowledge their mistakes, even when others are harmed because of them. In such circumstances the authorities must enforce laws on the ground and take strict action against violators, so that people learn a lesson. Alas, the SMC has failed to do so. There are numerous studies to prove that face masks are effective in reducing virus transmission, and not a single study that provides evidence that face masks can’t do so. The world is not rid of the pandemic yet, nor is Kashmir. It is time the authorities woke up to this fact and acted upon it.
The writer is studying for a master’s in Chemistry at University of Kashmir. firstname.lastname@example.org