‘Pseudo-masking’ — wearing masks but not covering the nose or wearing masks on the chin — will not help the cause either.

Hundreds gathered at the UB City Amphitheatre in Bengaluru on March 7, Sunday, to watch prominent singer Lucky Ali reliving some of his greatest hits. People got seated, decked up in their best outfits. The mood was set for a live concert; but one very important thing was missing — face masks. A few images from the concert showed that a majority of the people in the crowd did not wear masks, while some had it pulled down to their chin. The crowd-pulling Lucky Ali concert literally pulled people together so much that the concept of maintaining physical distance amid the COVID-19 pandemic seemed to have gone out of the window.

On the booking site, the organisers of the event mentioned that all COVID-19 protocols will be followed, including compulsory masks “whenever possible at the venue.” A few guests also pointed out that hookahs or smoking water pipes, which involves sharing mouthpieces, were allegedly served amid the packed crowd.

This is, however, the situation in several public places, be it at markets, weddings, or shopping malls. “Last week, at Lulu mall in Kochi, I noticed that many, including children, roaming around with an ice cream cone in their hand and no mask at all. The consumption of ice cream and drinks should be restricted within the shops that sell them,” said Joe, a resident of the city.

Children without masks accompanying parents in public places is a common sight too. Although children are reported to play a less significant role in spreading the disease or are less likely to become seriously ill, the coronavirus is mutating, and so, these which could affect contagiousness and children’s vulnerability. Children with underlying medical conditions, too, are vulnerable to the infection. The manufacturers of COVID-19 vaccines approved in India have not included minors (those below 18 years) in the list of eligible beneficiaries yet. Pharma companies such as Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson are in the process of testing children between 16 and 18 years.

While the state governments have imposed a cap on the number of guests attending a wedding or funeral, not all hosts ensure to get their guests tested. At such ceremonies, the obvious step is to wear masks, if not for physical distancing at all times. “I attended a wedding with 60 people. Among them, at least 45 guests did not wear masks. It’s almost like COVID-19 is gone,” a person who recently attended a wedding in Bengaluru told TNM.

While restaurants, malls and offices have opened up and people have let their guard down, the pandemic is very much still there. “I was in the interior parts of Tamil Nadu last week, and I was almost ridiculed by an auto driver for wearing a mask,” said Hari, a resident of Chennai. “Most of the time, especially of late, people seem to be least bothered,” he added.

“The general populace, especially in rural and suburban parts, are not very particular about wearing masks,” noted Manu (name changed on request), a resident of Punjab.

“Pseudo masking will not help the cause either,” he added, referring to situations where many wear masks but only on their mouth, keeping their nose exposed. This defeats the purpose of wearing the mask as the virus also lines the nasal cavity. Covering the nose also helps prevent breathing in the virus particles to a great extent, especially when physical distancing is not being followed and in a closed space.   

In Delhi, it is almost rare to see people wearing masks, said Jaishree, a resident of South Delhi. “Whenever I visit the vegetable market near my residence, I either see people not wearing masks or wearing it on their chin, like a ‘chin hat.’ In malls, I have noticed that staff asking customers to wear masks, but they are also scared, fearing some may complain against them,” she said.

At a time when leaders should be leading by example, many political leaders either do not wear masks or turn it into a ‘chin accessory’, especially since states like Kerala, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal are having their Assembly elections.

“Masks have become a joke, especially in political rallies,” said Apoorva Jayachandran, a journalist who has been covering the Tamil Nadu Assembly election, told TNM. “Political leaders do not wear masks when on stage, but when going into the crowds or addressing people upfront, they wear masks; sometimes even double masks. But, even if they’re wearing a mask, over half of the people who attend such events don’t. The party cadres don’t remind the crowd to put on their masks either. We have also seen cadres either incorrectly wearing the mask, including wearing it below the nose, or not wearing one,” she said.

As journalists covering such stories, they have no choice but to face the risk of being in a packed, mask-less crowd. “When reporters walk into such a packed crowd and try for exclusives or bytes, we have no choice but to think about doing our job rather than panicking about the next person not wearing a mask,” she said.

Several studies and experts have insisted that wearing masks, in the right manner, can help prevent the transmission and contraction of the disease to a great extent.

Watch: Why take the COVID-19 vaccine

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