Masks Are The Vaccines We Have Always Had, And They Work Against All Variants: Double Down On Deployment

S Murlidharan

May 14, 2021, 05:17 PM | Updated 05:17 PM IST

Why wearing a mask properly in public is crucial. (Representative Image)
Why wearing a mask properly in public is crucial. (Representative Image)
  • Textile houses must ramp up production of masks on a war-footing, and the government must give them free to the poor.
  • If Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Covid action force think dispassionately, they would slightly change tack and set in motion a process of aggressive distribution of four-ply face masks across the country, starting with the hotspots, by ramping up production — now that ramping up vaccine production is proving to be easier said than done.

    Shaheed Jameel, virologist Ashoka University, has been the most ardent advocate of effective and proper masking to keep the deadly virus at bay.

    He chides TV anchors and his co-panelists for obsessing endlessly with mutations and other obtuse virus behaviour when all that we need to do is to stop the viruses from penetrating into our bodies with Covid appropriate behaviour, which till recently was all about repeatedly washing one’s hands.

    Wisdom has now dawned that being an air-borne pandemic, coronaviruses of all shades and mutations can be kept at bay by wearing proper masks.

    So let us ask our textile houses to ramp up production of masks on a war-footing, which is far easier than ramping up production of vaccines. Let the government give them free to the below poverty line (BPL) segment, which is by and large the sole beneficiary of our subsidised food grains distribution system along with their monthly rations.

    Let health workers and Covid frontline workers fan out into the hotspots first to distribute such masks. Let our corporates take up masking as their more pressing social responsibility. Ventilators and other hospital paraphernalia are fine but the most urgent preventive measure is masking the benighted people.

    Let the central and state governments loosen their purse strings for this purpose with effective advertisements both in the print and electronic media as well as on billboards.

    Let there be a frightening message for the business-as-usual people — the heart-rending figure of a patient gasping for breath in a hospital bed a la the figure of disfigured mouth on cigarette packets.

    Let celebrities be roped in to din in the message that masking is the cheapest and most effective Covid prevention measure. And for god’s sake let the mask makers spare a thought for children and infants who strangely have got the rawest deal in the vaccination and other preventive drives.

    Let masks not be one-size-fits all. Let there be masks for the tiny faces of infants produced on a large scale.

    It may appear ironic that at a time when the US is getting ready to rip off the lung saving masks as indicated by President Joe Biden, we are hurtling back to the most obvious measure one should have thought of at the very beginning of the pandemic.

    But it is better late than never. Come to think of it, appropriate masking can be an effective alternative to lockdowns that throw livelihoods pell-mell besides hurting economic activities.

    Work and production should be allowed to go on by enforcing sanitisation measures strictly. Indefinite lockdown is hardly the solution as Prime Minister Modi has realised and hence loath to announce a nationwide lockdown this time round.

    The only lockdown should be of gatherings in closed spaces like marriage halls, malls, restaurants and gyms. Strangely, state governments have shut down open parks too whereas pulmonologists advise brisk walk to improve heartbeat and generate more oxygen.

    Walking in parks wearing masks is hardly dangerous or potentially hazardous. Co-morbid persons like diabetics and hypertension patients need to exercise regularly more so in a milieu where hospital doors are shut for them.

    Vaccine, vaccine and vaccine is the current clarion call by the medical fraternity from its earlier call of test, test and test. My own and Shaheed Jameel’s call though is mask, mask and mask in the current dire Indian context.

    It must however be conceded that the ultimate solution lies in universal vaccination as it alone gives immunity. Masking is not a substitute for vaccination.

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