Masks should not be compulsory now, say experts

With the number of Covid-19 cases steadily falling, mandatory use of masks should be discouraged, said public health experts. However, people at higher risk should continue to wear masks, especially in badly ventilated areas and crowded places, they said. “People with higher risk need to continue to use it voluntarily. Mandatory use should be discouraged. Covid is not spreading like wildfire but the vulnerable might be at higher risk even with masks, if neglected,” said Giridhara Babu, a senior epidemiologist.

Soumya Swaminathan, chief scientist at the World Health Organization (WHO), has also recommended wearing masks in crowded indoor settings with poor ventilation. Covid-19 cases have been declining in India for some time now. On Tuesday, India reported 3,230 Covid-19 cases and 32 deaths. The number of cases reported was the lowest in more than three months. Active Covid-19 cases in the country also saw a slight decline.

Likewise, on Monday, Delhi reported 33 new Covid-19 cases, 66 recoveries and zero deaths in the past 24 hours.

Mask mandates appeared to reduce Covid-19 cases when the pandemic was raging. But, now, wearing a mask “should be a personal choice”, said Anurag Agrawal, former head of the Insacog laboratory consortium and chair of the WHO’s Technical Advisory Group on Virus Evolution.

However, in certain situations such as a crowded and poorly ventilated indoor space, masks should be worn, Agrawal said, since Covid-19 is still infectious. “People are more resistant by now and risks are thus smaller,” he said.

Shahid Jameel of the University of Oxford recommended wearing a mask, saying, “It will protect from both Covid reinfection and a bad flu season expected this year.”

The Delhi government is deliberating whether the mask mandate can be eased. The Disaster Management Authority held a meeting on Tuesday where it was decided that the ₹500 fine for not wearing masks in public places in the national capital may be scrapped, even as the authority stressed that the relaxation does not mean that people should stop wearing masks.

Health experts said the level of Covid-19 transmission in India is low and the disease has become endemic. An infectious disease is said to be in the endemic phase when its transmission is less but it is present in a particular region or population.

(With inputs from health)