The city has bid farewell to the mask, one of the most effective Covid shields, a tour on Sunday suggested.
At malls and markets, in public transport and on roads, people without a mask outnumbered by far those wearing one.
A government notification on March 31, which declared the withdrawal of Covid restrictions, also “advised” that the health and hygiene protocol, including wearing of masks, “shall continue” to be strictly observed.
Public health experts said it was still not the time to take off the mask.
“Covid is not yet gone and cases are again on the rise in cities like Delhi. Also, one of the good things we have learnt from the Covid pandemic is to wear masks, which help us stay healthy in a broader way. Masks protect us from other infections and pollution,” said Abhijit Chowdhury, coordinator of the Bengal government’s Covid management team.
Officers of several police stations across Kolkata said although they had not received any instruction to stop prosecuting people for not wearing masks, it was no longer possible to continue with the prosecution.
“There are so many people moving around without wearing masks. It is impossible to prosecute such a large number of offenders,” said an officer of Kolkata police.
Roads and markets
From Hatibagan in the north to New Alipore in the south, spotting maskless pedestrians was far from a challenge. Around 4.30pm, two buses stood at a signal at the Rashbehari intersection, on the Gariahat-bound flank.
The buses were reasonably crowded. Passengers seated along the windows on both buses were without masks.
A few hours before, a large group of pedestrians was waiting to cross Diamond Harbour Road at Behala Chowrasta in southwest Kolkata. Most of them were maskless, despite standing right beside a traffic sergeant.
Things were no different at New Market. A mask was hard to spot in the bustling shopping address of central Kolkata in the afternoon.
The market along Grand Hotel Arcade had hundreds of shoppers. Hardly anyone wore a mask.
“The majority of the people on the roads are not wearing masks. After the withdrawal of the disaster management act, it is difficult to convince people to put on their masks. Hence, we are not prosecuting them,” said an officer in south Kolkata.
An officer in central Kolkata said if they started to prosecute people without masks, they would have to book almost all people on the roads. “Almost 99 per cent of the people are without masks. How can we prosecute only a handful and spare the rest? Practically, it is impossible to prosecute so many people at a time,” he said.
Around 2pm, the food court at South City Mall was crowded. The majority of the people were maskless.
Many shoppers, too, were without masks or had the masks hanging from their chins.
“Covid is past. We should go back to the pre-pandemic world,” said a young man at the mall.
Sougata Chatterjee, who lives near Behala police station in southwest Kolkata, had gone to a restaurant at South City Mall with his parents for lunch.
“Finding a person masked up was a challenge. We were perhaps one of the very few. Around 2.30pm, a group of friends entered the mall with us. Only two of them were masked up. Upon a prod from the guard, the rest put on their masks. But soon after entering the mall, they took them off,” said Chatterjee, 34.
The situation was almost the same at Acropolis Mall.
At the entrance, there was the occasional prod from guards urging people to mask up. Many took off the shield as soon as they entered the mall.
“We are telling people to keep wearing their masks. Beyond that, there is little we can do,” said an official at South City Mall.
An official at Acropolis Mall said they were implementing the mask mandate with vigour. “There can be one or two stray incidents (of not wearing masks). But we are implementing the mask mandate, 100 per cent,” he said.
During a Metro ride from the Maidan to Sovabazar on Sunday evening, this newspaper found that the majority of the passengers, on the platforms as well as inside the coach, were without masks.
Multiple Metro passengers said they still wore masks because they were aware that Covid was down but not out.
“Like many others, I make it a point to wear a mask inside the train. But the number of maskless passengers has gone up manifold in the past month,” said Arnab Seal, a Bansdroni resident who works with a shipping company in central Kolkata.
An official of Metro Railway said the carrier was still conducting campaigns encouraging people to wear masks.
“But with the withdrawal of the disaster management act, we cannot take any punitive action against people without masks,” he said.
An RPF officer, too, said they were prodding the maskless to put on their face coverings. “But it is almost impossible to reach out to everybody during the rush hour,” he said.