The brutal, once-in-a-lifetime, devastating Covid pandemic brought us down on our knees and the world literally came to a standstill. The healthcare systems and the economy of the world were turned topsy-turvy and most of us were literally left gasping for breath as we saw the death and destruction around us.
Robust public health measures of masking, social distancing, and hand sanitisation proved to be the keys to preventing the spread of disease along with the aggressive vaccination drive.
Now that we have come out of the relatively mild but extremely infectious third wave due to the Omicron variant, people have started breathing easy and public memory being short, some have even forgotten the devastation caused by this virus.
Many states have removed the Covid restrictions including mandatory masking. The debate on easing restrictions and not mandating masks can go on till the cows come home and there may not be an absolute right or wrong answer for this million-dollar question.
Though it’s amply clear to us that Covid has not left us and will continue to be with us for years to come it may not have the same devastating effect as before for the following reasons.
Almost every citizen of our country has been infected in one of the three waves and most of us have received (180 crore vaccinations for adults so far and counting) the complete doses of the vaccination along with the third dose for the high-risk groups. Children above the age of 12 are being vaccinated aggressively and many of our citizens would have had the hybrid immunity effects of both infection and vaccination giving them a high level of protection against serious disease.
We have also noticed that even though Omicron, the variant of concern, had a large number of mutations compared to the original virus and could have caused serious illness, it was found to be very infectious but not very virulent and was short-lived. Hopefully, the future mutations would have somewhat of a similar response.
For these reasons, I believe it is reasonable to remove some of the stringent restrictions imposed during Covid times which will also help economic recovery after a severe lull for two years. However, I strongly believe that masking and social distancing should stay with us for some more time to come.
In addition to preventing the spread of Covid infections that still exist around us, masking is a great way to prevent the spread of other respiratory illnesses and also one of the banes of our society, Tuberculosis.
Hence, I strongly support the use of masks in public places and social distancing along with handwashing. These measures could certainly be encouraged by public awareness and educational programmes and may not necessarily have to be mandated or imposed with heavy fines.
Constant vigilance and surveillance are needed to make sure there is no surge in the cases either nationally or locally and in case that happens, we may have to go back to mandating masking, distancing and handwashing.
All in all, public health measures including masking, distancing and hand-washing along with constant surveillance and vigilance are the key to preventing Covid from raising its ugly head again.
Dr. H Sudarshan Ballal is a Nephrologist, director of Manipal Institute of Nephrology and Urology, the chairman of the Medical Advisory Board of Manipal Hospitals Group and Senate Member of Manipal University. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent the stand of this publication.