An article in the New York Times tries to create a misleading narrative that Indians have stopped wearing masks

On Monday (January 10), The New York Times published an article ‘In India, mask wearing is down, even as numbers rise’.

The article cites unnamed researchers to say that mask wearing in the country has fallen to levels last seen in March. It then goes on to narrate some instances from a few cities in support of this assertion.

It is ironical that The New York Times should carry such a misleading report at a time when New York itself is in a vice-like grip due to Covid-19. Also, despite the grim situation in the country through most of 2021, social media has often been full of images of people in US cities protesting in large numbers against the need to wear masks and get vaccinated for protection against Covid-19.

But let’s come to some important facts when it comes to India. There has been no let up when it comes to authorities enforcing the use of masks in public places, particularly in crowded public places in the major cities.

What’s more, people themselves believe strongly in the protection that steps like wearing face masks provide.

A global survey conducted by the World Economic Forum (WEF) in December last year found that about 93 per cent of Indians agreed that they should wear a mask when in public places or in close proximity with others.

According to The Times of India, the same survey also found that nearly 90 per cent of all respondents believed that they and their colleagues at workplaces should be fully vaccinated against Covid-19.

"The percentage of Indian respondents agreeing to such measures is much higher than the global average of 78 per cent wanting everyone in their workplace to be fully vaccinated and 81 per cent expecting everyone to wear a mask in common areas," said The Times of India in the report published on December 9, 2021.

The survey made another important point, according to the ToI report.

Over 80 per cent of Indians surveyed said they would opt for frequent Covid testing in case no vaccinated against the disease. “Globally, only 12 per cent of workers would choose frequent testing instead,” the report said, quoting the WEF survey.

The survey was conducted a few weeks before the emergence of the Omicron variant. Nevertheless, it shows how seriously Indians take preventive measures like masks and the need to get vaccinated at the earliest.

Read the complete report in The Times of India

Another important point that needs to be highlighted in this context is that unlike the US and several other countries, India has never officially lifted its mask mandate since the early days of the pandemic's outbreak, even after vaccination levels began rising significantly. Top government functionaries, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, have regularly stressed on the need to wear masks.

On the other hand, this is the official guidance issued in the United States in May last year, according to a report in USA Today.

"Anyone who is fully vaccinated can participate in indoor and outdoor activities, large or small, without wearing a mask or physical distancing,'' Walensky said. "If you are fully vaccinated, you can start doing the things that you had stopped doing because of the pandemic," the report quoted Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as saying.

Read the full report in USA Today

To be fair, mask mandates have returned in several US states, particularly after the emergence of Omicron. But many states are yet to implement one, or are implementing it only partially, despite fresh CDC guidance, say recent reports in the US media.

Another aspect that needs to be highlighted here is that authorities in cities like India's national capital Delhi, which have reported a massive surge in Covid-19 cases since the spread of Omicron, are taking all steps to enforce Covid Appropriate Behaviour like social distancing and wearing masks.

The steps include shutting down shops, even entire markets, if they are found violating norms.

Just a few days into 2022, India’s massive nationwide vaccination drive began covering children in the age group of 15-18 years. Since January 10 (this Monday), an additional ‘precaution dose’ of Covid-19 vaccine is being administered to health workers and those above 60 with comorbidities that have been certified by a doctor.

The New York Times needs to be mindful of the fact that India is definitely not letting down its guard at this crucial juncture in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic.