Tossing off the mask
Last week, the Civil Aviation Ministry announced that wearing masks would be an optional, and preferable option for flyers in domestic and international flights, while adding that maskless travel will not be penalised. The order is in line with the Centre’s graded approach to managing the pandemic.
Two years after the pandemic spread in India, the government has lifted the final bit of legislation mandating Covid-appropriate behaviour in public. Last week, the Civil Aviation Ministry announced that wearing masks would be an optional, and preferable option for flyers in domestic and international flights, while adding that maskless travel will not be penalised. The order is in line with the Centre’s graded approach to managing the pandemic. The Centre has instructed airlines to inform passengers about this development during the in-flight announcements.
When domestic flights resumed in India in May 2020, after being suspended for two months, hundreds of passengers were put on the no-fly list for varying periods, owing to their refusal to wear masks. In the past year, even when the whole country had come out of lockdown and people were celebrating communal gatherings like festivals as well as social occasions like weddings without any masks, so to speak, the aviation industry maintained a stoic insistence on masking up during flights. Like everyone else, even the patience of cabin crew members had worn thin, as they hopped from one aisle to the other urging ‘errant’ passengers to cover up properly.
It is interesting to see the evolution of safety norms, across the world in the aftermath of the Covid crisis. Here in India, the only so-called Covid restriction that remains in place is the filling up of the Air Suvidha form before heading off to an international destination. Some of the strictest Covid restrictions are still in place in China, which maintains a zero-COVID policy. Masking happens to be the bare minimum of the requirement, and the administration has not shied away from locking down entire cities with populations in the millions, even as early as in November when a single case of Covid was reported. Recently, the officials instructed Peking University to be shut down as one case was detected here. As expected, small pockets of the nation erupted in riots and unrest, only to be rapidly quelled by the government.
Most European nations have also dropped their guard, and foregone masking and social distancing norms, except in a few states like Germany where it is mandatory to wear a mask while travelling in public transport like buses or metro trains, or if visiting health facilities or nursing homes. Japan, which had a laudable track record in dealing with the pandemic, has no legal mandates in place, but strongly urges its citizens to mask up when in public, especially in super crowded places. Also, international travellers to the country need to be triple vaccinated, a mandate which is in stark contrast to the rules applicable in many developed nations that are now accepting international travellers sans vaccination or Covid test certificates.
It might be argued that India had returned to normalcy during the first two quarters of this year and that the dropping of the masking mandate is at best symbolic of the end of the pandemic. We might be none the wiser about where the virus came from and how it has gone off the radar after wrecking the world for the better part of two years. And though it might appear to be a speck in the continuum of our lives, it is essential that we do not relegate the lessons from this experience as a vestige of a time gone by.