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Penalties for Not Wearing Masks?

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By Shobha John

The world has been battling the Covid-19 pandemic for close to six months now. In parts of the world, it has shown no signs of abating, while others have almost beaten it. One very important weapon in the fight against Covid-19 and the first line of defence is the use of face masks. Unfortunately, despite constant and serious warnings by top doctors the world over, there are many instances of people simply refusing to wear them, jeopardising their own health and that of others. If this isn’t callous and risky behaviour, what is?  

The repercussions of this on the aviation industry can be grievous as people fly in close proximity and could get the virus from others if they are not wearing a mask. In the light of this deviant behaviour on the part of some passengers, the Geneva-based International Air Transport Association (IATA) has appealed to all travellers to wear a face covering for the safety of all passengers and crew during Covid-19. This is because of recent reports of a small number of travellers refusing to wear a mask during a flight and leading to on-board violent incidents, resulting in costly diversions to offload these passengers.

The IATA has appealed to the common sense of travellers and compliance with crew safety instructions and said that a plane ticket is a contract under which the passenger agrees to the airline’s terms and conditions of carriage. Those conditions can include the airline’s right to refuse carriage to a person whose behaviour interferes with a flight, violates government regulations or causes other passengers to feel unsafe. It has warned that failure to comply means that a passenger faces the risk of being offloaded from the flight, restrictions on future carriage or penalties under national laws.

 Would imposing such penalties on people not wearing masks even on the ground be in order? There have been numerous instances of even doctors complaining of people refusing to wear masks saying it was too hot to do so.

Dr Anoop Misra, Chairman, Fortis CDOC Hospital for Diabetes and Allied Sciences in Delhi even tweeted recently: “I stopped going out for walk first time in 5 months since increasingly people are without mask, and they wont listen. 70% without mask and walking close by. More crowding and no physical distancing is so common. Terrible.”

Go to any place in Delhi and one will find people without masks. In Mumbai, there were videos of people shopping for Ganesh Chaturthi throwing all norms of social distancing to the wind. Many would also be without masks or wearing them below their noses or chins. The same situation would be there in other cities. While one can understand the discomfort of wearing a mask in this humid weather, it has to be drilled into people’s psyche that there is no other alternative. It is this lack of compliance that is one of the reasons for the Covid numbers rising.

So should penalties be imposed on those without masks? If so, what type of penalties can these be and who will enforce them? Can the police, saddled as it is with other duties, be in a position to do so? Should there be monetary penalties or some sort of community service? Perhaps it is time the government thought on those lines than imposing and lifting lockdowns which have an economic fallout.

A masked person is a good citizen and a safe citizen.

Lead Picture: UNI

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