The list of states and union territories mandating the wearing of masks is increasing and rightly so. The lockdown of the kind India has had for over two weeks now cannot be sustained indefinitely and economic activity must resume to avert the bigger danger of economic collapse. Wearing of masks is the best social distancing measure under these circumstances as physical distancing isn’t practical at workplaces, public transport, shopping centres or relief camps and rationing outlets. So far Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, UP, Delhi, Mumbai and Ladakh are among the territories where wearing masks have been made mandatory.
The possibility of invoking penalties for violations are being explored too. China had taken this course. But in the Indian context it may be good for civic bodies to start with offering free and plentiful supply of masks. This would ensure that a critical mass starts wearing masks and prods others to also adopt the practice. Generating awareness is a key step in triggering a behavioural shift because many people still remain holdouts and resist the idea of wearing masks. Small textile units, by now, would already have recognised the business case for masks given how shopping for clothes would have dropped down the priority list.
By now, there are enough scientific studies to prove that masks can limit to a great extent the ability of respiratory droplets and aerosolised particles to spread the coronavirus. The danger of asymptomatic individuals transmitting the virus is another reason for everyone to wear a mask. Wearing masks may not be not easy for everyone. But civic responsibility and the country’s immediate economic revival demands this small gesture from every citizen, even as the Centre and state governments must now come up with ways of resuming economic activity to keep up their part of the social contract.