Experts have mixed opinion on lifting of mask mandate in Delhi
Experts had mixed views on the lifting of the mask mandate after September 30 in Delhi, with some saying the government could have waited for two months for the festive season to end, while others said people should voluntarily be allowed to discipline themselves.
In its meeting held last month, the Delhi Disaster Management Authority (DDMA) had emphasised not lowering guard against Covid in view of the upcoming festivals even as it decided to do away with wearing face masks after September 30.
According to the minutes of the meeting held on September 22, a notification revoking the Rs 500 fine on not wearing masks is expected to be issued by the health department soon.
Hospitals in the national capital are seeing mild Covid cases with most of the patients getting cured just through OPD consultation, while the hospitalisation rate is low even among the co-morbid patients.
According to Dr Vikas Maurya, director and HOD of Pulmonology at Fortis Hospital Shalimar Bagh, there are no new patients having severe Covid getting admitted.
However, he said it is yet to be seen whether this trend continues in winter, since respiratory infections with viral illnesses increase during such weather conditions.
"It is expected that there will be an increase in all respiratory viral infections including Covid, flu, swine flu and others during winters," he said.
He advised that people who are at high risk like elderly, those with comorbidities should take precautions and use masks during this festive season and avoid going in crowded places or travelling long without mask.
"It is because apart from Covid, other respiratory viruses like flu, swine flu are also affecting people and can cause severe infections requiring admissions," he stressed.
Dr Sumit Ray, head of the critical care department at Holy Family Hospital, said the hospital has not had a single Covid-related death in the past four months.
"We have had hospitalisations mainly because of stress and anxiety and some have required oxygen but no one has required prolonged ventilatory support. In fact, we have had more severe cases of swine flu as compared to COVID-19 with quite a few requiring ventilator," he said.
"People have been doubly vaccinated and some have taken precaution doses as well. So they are well-protected against the infection. We have to keep an eye on the things as the things go," he added.
It was in the beginning of April that the government had lifted the mask mandate but within three weeks, had to reimpose it, in view of the rising positivity rate of the infection.
"We are having a lot of viral infections like H1N1, influenza and some undiagnosed respiratory illnesses. If other viral infections are happening, it means that mask mandate is anyways not being adhered to," Ray stressed.
Doctors said that even globally, countries have dropped the mask mandate amid a decline in the cases of infection.
Dr Vivek Nangia, Principal Director & Head-Pulmonology, Max Super Speciality Hospital, Saket said the US has declared itself Covid-free and even in healthcare settings they have done away with wearing of masks.
"Even though the government might have withdrawn it, but we must maintain self-discipline and continue wearing masks not because of Covid but also protect ourselves from influenza and environmental pollution, which will be there in the next few days. The number of Covid cases per day is low and the wearing of masks has to come within us," he added.
Maurya said that even comorbid and elderly, the severity of infection is low due to vaccination and the fact that many of them have contracted the infection before.
Amid the chorus for self-discipline, Dr Jugal Kishore, head of Community Medicine at Safdarjung Hospital, said the authorities could have waited till New Year to lift the mask mandate.
"We could have delayed this provision for another two months because of the festive season. We already know that people are not wearing masks but still with some sort of sanctions, there was some sort of fear among people.
He said that Covid transmission is still there with people travelling across borders.
"So, the respiratory etiquettes must continue because influenza kills elderly people across the world," he added.
Even the decision to revoke the mask mandate by the DDMA was anything but unanimous and there were differences abound, as per the minutes of the meeting.
Chief Secretary of Delhi Naresh Kumar had in the meeting said the current situation was comfortable but the guard against coronavirus could not be lowered as the variants keep coming up.
The health ministry has advised caution in view of multiple festivals -- from September 26 to December 31 -- and likely mass gatherings across the country.
Niti Aayog member Dr V K Paul had in the meeting emphasised that surveillance was still needed as the virus is still present and its mutations and variants have emerged from time to time.
Dr Rajendra Singh, member NDMA, came up with a suggestion that wearing of masks be continued up to November 15 in view of the coming festivals.
The chief secretary suggested that a self discipline mode may be tried now as the public is well aware of its responsibilities and what constitutes a Covid-appropriate behaviour.
The meeting, chaired by Delhi LG V K Saxena and Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal in attendance, summarily agreed that though wearing of masks was useful in maintaining a COVID-appropriate behaviour, the order of compulsory wearing of masks under the Epidemic Act may not be extended beyond September 30.
The DDMA also agreed that the fine of Rs 500 for not wearing masks in public places will stand withdrawn after September 30, it added.