Editorial: Throwing away a winning battle

As the mercury rises in the backdrop of the Chennai summer and the impending Tamil Nadu Assembly elections, it seems people have all but forgotten that we have barely begun to slip out from under the shadow of a pandemic.
Editorial: Throwing away a winning battle
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The callousness when it comes to concern for the well-being of citizens other than oneself seems second nature in the Indian context. Entire communities are now throwing caution to the wind, under the impression that COVID-19 has disappeared, and roaming mask-free, sans-sanitation measures.
The impact of violations is being witnessed first-hand in Tamil Nadu, where 569 fresh cases were reported on Tuesday with 236 of them reported in Chennai. A major point of contention in the state, vis-a-vis the pandemic, includes the election rallies and poll-centric events. Earlier this week, as many as 209 family clusters emerged in Chennai, Kancheepuram, Chengalpattu, Coimbatore and Villupuram which has led to a spike in cases. Deputy Directors of Health Services in various districts have been instructed to keep a strict vigil over public events and activities conducted in their jurisdiction, for which permits need to be sought by the organisers. In the absence of safety protocols, such events could very well turn out to be the next super-spreaders in the state, where over 10.38 lakh people have been inoculated since the arrival of the vaccine.
Health Secretary of Tamil Nadu, J Radhakrishnan on Tuesday did not mince words when he ordered a spot fine of Rs 200 on anyone found without a mask. The official pointed out to the surge in cases in Maharashtra and Kerala and warned citizens of the state from acting carelessly, which could defeat the hard work put in by millions of frontline workers employed round the clock. The Greater Chennai Corporation has also taken the threat seriously, considering the daily caseload of COVID in Chennai breaching 200, and started barricading streets with more than three active cases, a practice discontinued towards the end of last year.
The scenario is no different at wet markets in the state. Koyambedu market, which had infamously become the ground zero for one of Tamil Nadu’s first superspreader events, is limping back to normalcy after being shut down for the first time during the pandemic, almost 10 months ago. While the wholesalers and staffers here have taken all precautions at their end, customers are playing truant this time around. The need for social distancing and use of masks in public has fallen on deaf ears, a pain point the shopkeepers fear will have a debilitating impact on their livelihoods if another lockdown is imposed.
This problem of recklessness is not limited to our state. This week, the Delhi High Court had expressed its utter dismay and shock, reacting to reports of people wearing their masks as a chin-guard during domestic flights. The issue was taken up by Justice C Hari Shankar and the Delhi High Court in turn has mandated that violators will not just be de-boarded, but they can also be placed on a no-fly list for breaking COVID-protocols. The reaction of the HC is by no means high-handed as passengers and cabin crew should not be held to ransom at the whims of a few unrelenting travellers.
Experts in epidemiology the world over have expressed concerns over the misplaced confidence that one can stop wearing masks as soon as he or she gets vaccinated. After the first jab, it takes around two weeks for the immune response to hit peak level. Subsequently, the immunity drops over the next few weeks, for which a second booster shot is provided, which is said to offer longer-lasting immunity. Despite this, there is every possibility that an individual can contract COVID-19 and be a transmitter for the same. The bottom line is, keep your masks on for now, as the vaccine is only part of the solution.

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