Masking India

The aftermath of Corona will see many behavioural changes, few might be noticed more than better personal hygiene

Once the Coronavirus passes, there will be innumerable scientific studies about what happened and why some countries dealt with the viral epidemic so much better than others. Some of the questions will have answers to ones that many of us are curious about. Such as how Germany prevented the full impact of the virus when Italy, separated by just a tiny Switzerland in between, was devastated? How could China mysteriously keep the strange Wuhan fever from devastating other major Chinese cities such as Beijing and Shanghai? At the same time, New York City, halfway across the planet from Wuhan, is getting its healthcare system pulverised. Yet, other questions might have simpler answers, such as how come Japan and South Korea prevented the full force of the attack from hitting them (so far)? One answer being offered is the high prevalence of face masks and the overall discipline among the populace in these countries. Indeed, ever since the initial SARS epidemic hit the country 15 years ago, it did not spread to the Western world but ravaged East Asia. The aftermath of those events inspired not just Hollywood movies but also established among its citizens a healthy habit of wearing surgical masks or even simple face masks when they venture outside their homes. Initially, the World Health Organisation (WHO), which has covered itself with all the ignominy during this crisis, had said that only those who displayed symptoms or tested positive had to wear the masks. It had made it clear that healthy people need not wear them. But political leaders across the world were confused and global leaders increasingly ignored the directive of the WHO, which covered up China’s mishandling of the outbreak. Wearing masks seems to have become a standard piece of advice being given by Governments to the public. Rightly so, the Indian Government, too, issued an advisory this week, asking all citizens to use “hand-made reusable face cover” when they step outside. The fact appears that wearing masks may not completely prevent the disease but it can considerably reduce its spread. This is a good thing as nations struggle to contain the outbreak. Just like citizens in several east Asian countries have become accustomed to masks in public, so will the general citizenry in India and the rest of the world. And one need not have a top-notch N95 mask, a simple home-made mask, made out of old clothes, would suffice. Given the global shortage of personal protective equipment, we must reserve them first for our medical professionals, who are at the forefront of the COVID-19 infection. Agreed, home-made masks may not be as efficient as N95 but they can reduce transmission significantly.

The genie has left the bottle and we cannot completely stop the spread of the COVID-19 virus until scientists find a preventive vaccine. Nor can we be dependent on hypothetical studies about the hot weather preventing the spread or that those innoculated with the BCG vaccine are more “immune” to the disease. A vaccine might still be a year or more away at the very least and India should not forget the impact the last global pandemic had on its population a century ago. So until a preventive vaccine is developed, wear a mask, wash your hands and maintain general social distancing. This is the least that we can all do in this fight and save each other.

Source: The Pioneer