Concern over poor adherence to mask wearing in Chennai

Reckless behaviour: People without masks waiting to board a bus at Moolakadai on Tuesday.  

Not everyone on roads or public places is wearing a mask in the city. Using face masks, one of the crucial norms to prevent the spread of COVID-19, is dwindling among a large section of the public, even as public health officials keep emphasising the importance of wearing them despite the dip in fresh coronavirus infections.

Compliance with the mask rule has declined over the last few months. It has become a common sight to see many not wearing masks or have one pulled down to the chin in public places, such as markets and shops, and while commuting in buses and share autorickshaws.

Health Secretary J. Radhakrishnan said the main challenge was in crowded places.

“In parts of Chennai and many other districts, except for some organised places, there is a distinct lack of adherence to the mask rule. Through our campaigns, we have been repeatedly pointing out the importance of wearing masks. When we had high positivity, particularly in Chennai, strict adherence to mask wearing was one of the critical reasons the chain of transmission was broken,” he said.

The lack of masks was particularly apparent in cultural, political and private gatherings, while adherence was good in shops and hotels, Mr. Radhakrishnan said.

“The cases may have come down and case fatality may have also reduced but people should not think the disease transmission is over. We appeal to the public to respect public health guidelines,” he added.

Prabhdeep Kaur, Deputy Director of the Indian Council of Medical Research - National Institute of Epidemiology (ICMR-NIE), said, “We feel that mask use might be declining due to the low risk perception as COVID-19 cases are low. It is important to keep wearing masks as a few clusters have been reported in some districts. The situation might be improving here but many countries are witnessing a resurgence in cases with the new variant. So, we should follow COVID-19 appropriate behaviour so even if a new variant spreads in the country, we can protect ourselves.”

A survey carried out by ICMR-NIE along with the Greater Chennai Corporation during October last year found that nearly 72% of people in slums and 64% in non-slums did not wear a mask covering their noses and mouths. Dr. Kaur noted that a second survey in December found only one-third of people wore masks, though the compliance was better in malls.

A senior government doctor, who has been involved in COVID-19 management, said it was disheartening to see only 30% to 40% of the public wearing masks. “We still see patients who are very sick, especially in the older age group,” he said. “If the adherence goes down and if we have a new strain, it could lead to faster spread of infection,” he added.

Risk of transmission

K. Kolandaswamy, former Director of Public Health and Preventive Medicine, said, “When persons in the younger age group do not wear masks and go out, they do not stand the risk of developing severe disease. But when they return home, they could expose their elders or high risk groups to the infection. So, it is important to wear masks in crowded places, closed spaces and while travelling.”

He added that face masks, handwashing and disinfection should be followed.

“It will take at least six months to reach a reasonable level of vaccination. So, herd immunity due to vaccination and herd immunity due to natural infection will take at least six months. Availability of vaccines is a determinant,” he added.

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Printable version | Jan 29, 2022 8:04:06 PM |

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