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Covid count up in West Bengal, but masks still a rarity in Kolkata

Face coverings are the best tool to keep coronavirus at bay, say public health experts

Subhajoy Roy | Published 27.06.22, 06:23 AM
People without masks at Park Street on Sunday.

People without masks at Park Street on Sunday.

Gautam Bose

Most Kolkatans are still reluctant to put on the mask despite a rise in the number of Covid cases and requests from experts who have been asserting that face coverings are the most effective tool to keep the virus at bay.

On Sunday, West Bengal recorded 493 new Covid cases. The number was 235 on Saturday, 657 on Friday, 745 on Thursday and 295 on Wednesday.

Nearly half the new cases are being reported from Kolkata, state health department officials said.

Across the city, the majority of the people — on roads, in markets and on public transport — are seen without masks.

“In an autorickshaw, I am often seated in the middle. The persons on either side are without masks. I do not argue with them because I know such efforts will be futile,” said a Kolkatan.

Some youths hanging around near the Indian Museum in the central business district on Sunday were asked why they were not wearing masks. A woman replied they were enjoying the cool weather.

People without masks near Indian Museum.

People without masks near Indian Museum.

Gautam Bose

A group of people on Park Street was spotted without masks. One of them said they felt suffocated wearing the face covering.

Public health experts said people were fatigued with Covid restrictions and were also in denial that the virus was still around.

Low hospitalisation and very few deaths are possibly other reasons why many people are not taking the current rise seriously.

“Nothing sparks fear like news of death does. People were wearing masks during the first and second waves because many people were dying from Covid. But with the death numbers remaining low currently, they are not giving much importance to the fresh rise in cases,” said Abhijit Chowdhury, a public health expert.

“I also think that we Indians consider masks an infringement on our personal freedom. Indians feel they are being forced to do what they do not want to. It is difficult to make people do something if they feel like that.”

People without masks at College Street.

People without masks at College Street.

Gautam Bose

The administration, too, has relaxed its vigil. As the Covid numbers dropped rapidly over the past few months, the police had stopped prosecuting people spotted without masks on streets. Though there is no formal order to stop the prosecution, such actions have not started despite a renewed rise in cases.

A police officer said that earlier they would click pictures and note down addresses of people found without masks and send them to court for action. “We are no longer doing that,” said a police officer.

Even at hospitals people are moving around without masks, prompting the authorities to bar entry of those without face coverings.

“In the last five-six days, we have again become strict. No one is being allowed inside the hospital without a mask. No visitor can enter a ward to meet a patient without a mask. No patient can enter a doctor’s chamber in the OPD without a mask,” said Sudipta Mitra, chief executive officer of Peerless Hospital.

Security personnel, Mitra said, are warning people that many in the OPD could be Covid positive.

A public health expert said that under the current circumstances, wearing a mask was the best possible protection against catching Covid.

“Maintaining distance is almost impossible as everything has opened up. A mask that properly covers the nose and the mouth is the best possible protection,” said the expert.

Last updated on 27.06.22, 06:23 AM
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