By Sanjay Pinto


A face mask worn on the chin is as ridiculous as a helmet placed on a petrol tank, to be hurriedly put on at the sight of traffic cops booking cases. The difference is significant – masks are for public safety, helmets are for personal safety. Yet, look around and you will find hardly 10% of folks wearing masks properly. And enforcement is regrettably missing, or, at the very least, woefully inadequate. Even way less than the helmet rule.

In hindsight, the public awareness messaging has been ineffective. Just do a spot poll and you will get responses as preposterous and diverse as ‘corona is over’ to ‘we just need to cover our mouths, not noses’. While keeping shut is not a bad idea, I’m resisting the temptation of an analogy of the nose uncovered with the mask below!

When film stars and cricketers rake in millions, thanks to their massive fan following, why is that, with the exception of Kamal Haasan and late comedian Vivek on vaccination, I am unable to recall any other celebrity putting out a Public Service Announcement on covid appropriate behaviour like the dire need to wear masks correctly during a ‘once in a century’ pandemic? Understandably, campaigning for physical distancing may be a self-goal, considering how packed theatres and stadia would be, but these are influencers who can turn masks into a fashion statement. For public good.

The IIT Kanpur prediction notwithstanding, all it took to delay or dent the present fourth covid was simple compliance with the easy to remember initials of India’s former cricket skipper – ‘MSD’ – masking, sanitising and distancing. Complacency always trumps compliance. And when a Minister is quoted in a news report that people will not be fined for not wearing masks, that seemed a much-awaited excuse to ‘breathe’ easy. The damage is not easy to undo. Public memory is not just proverbially but also evidently short. The death toll and hospitalisation during the fist two waves have apparently been forgotten. That it is better to breathe through a mask than a ventilator is lost on many. Even if this may be rare now, you never know who will need it. Hypothetically speaking, why should public conduct hinge on whether a law exists or is enforced in a matter of self-preservation? I’m never tired of giving this example: Do you need a law to lock your home before stepping out? For the record, there is still a law in place making masks compulsory.

Corona has most definitely not gone away. But I do concede that it is not going to vanish and we need to live with it. This is where selfishness comes to the fore. You may choose to attend parties and watch movies and live life to the fullest. You may even be strong enough to fight the virus without even being symptomatic. Here’s the rub. But you can be a carrier and infect a colleague at work who may have elderly parents with co-morbidities and infants or children with delicate health back home. If this does not sink in, it’s  a reflection of the kind of society we have become.

The insensitivity aside, common sense is also conspicuous by its absence. That’s a deadly combination. I’ve seen and heard of waiters at restaurants, teachers and non-teaching staff at schools especially at air-conditioned computer labs, security guards at offices and residential complexes, drivers, either not wearing masks or sporting them on the chin. I’ve heard of school kids falling ill, returning before full recovery and infecting their classmates, quite like a relay race of sickness. 

Just because the death count and hospitalisation are now, mercifully, negligible, the fear factor has disappeared. The other trigger of a false sense of bravado is among those who have been infected earlier and who now erroneously conjure up an air of invincibility, despite medical evidence pointing to fairly widespread reinfection. The other misconception that has dented the vaccination drive is that those who have had the jab are still contracting the virus. The vaccine cannot make you covid proof. It can only reduce the severity and possibly the need for hospitalisation.

It’s no longer a case of ‘your freedom ends at the tip of my nose’. If your nose and mouth are not behind a mask, you are endangering my life too.

(P.S:  Ironically, articles that seek to drive home some sense may violate the ‘community standards’ of some social media sites. Because their algorithms are programmed to treat words like red flags and in isolation.)

(Sanjay Pinto is an Advocate practising at the Madras High Court, an Arbitrator, Columnist, Author & Former Resident Editor – NDTV 24×7)



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