Many Kolkatans are not wearing masks in public places and are trying to enter hospitals or shopping malls without one, claiming the government has said it is no longer mandatory to mask up.
State government officials, however, clarified that wearing a mask is still mandatory and police are still prosecuting people, though in fewer numbers, for not wearing one in public places.
Public health experts said although Covid cases had gone down significantly, it was still advisable to wear a mask, especially when one is in a crowded place or an enclosed area.
Officials of hospitals and malls said many people were not wearing masks and when they were being asked to wear one, they were referring to dubious directives on the “withdrawal of the mask mandate”.
As the downward slope of the Covid graph continues, the Union home ministry has decided to end all containment measures from March 31, more than two years after they were introduced to try and slow down the spread of the virus.
The ministry, however, has asserted that the advisory on masks will continue.
“After taking into consideration the overall improvement in the situation and preparedness of the government to deal with the pandemic, the NDMA (National Disaster Management Authority) has taken a decision that there may not be any further need to invoke the provisions of the DM (Disaster Management) Act for Covid containment measures,” Union home secretary Ajay Bhalla stated in a letter to the chief secretaries of all states and the administrators of the Union Territories.
“However, ministry of health & family welfare advisories on Covid containment measures, including on the use of facemask and hand hygiene, will continue to guide the overall national response to the pandemic,” Bhalla wrote in the letter.
At hospitals, an increasing number of people are turning up without masks, said officials.
“More and more people are coming to the hospital without wearing masks. Earlier, they would at least carry a mask in their pockets. But no longer so,” said Sudipta Mitra, chief executive of Peerless Hospital.
“Some of them are claiming that the rule on the mandatory use of masks has been withdrawn. They say they have read about it on social media. But there is no such directive from the government.”
At the peak of the pandemic, the hospital would sell around 20 masks a day to people turning up without a face covering. Now, the figure has doubled.
At Acropolis Mall in south Kolkata, the footfall has gone up and so is the count of maskless visitors. “Acropolis Mall has made it a rule for the guests to wear masks. There is no new notification from the government to malls on relaxing the mask norm till now,” said a spokesperson for the mall.
However, the number of prosecutions for not wearing a mask has gone down compared with the figures last month.
An officer at Lalbazar said that on an average 110-150 people were prosecuted daily for not wearing masks in public places last month. “The number has since dropped below 100,” he said.
According to Lalbazar records, 58 people were prosecuted on Tuesday and 97 on Monday.
Several police stations have stopped prosecuting maskless people as most people on the roads are not covering their faces, said the officer-in-charge of a police station.