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AIIMS director Randeep Guleria has advised hefty fines for not wearing masks and aggressive testing if we are to prevent the spread of the virus and revive economic activities at a fast pace. He also admits that people are fed up with lockdowns. A new phase in unlocking has begun in September with competitive exams being conducted and metro services about to restart.

The bold government steps in the face of opposition is heartening. Yet government is not making proportionate efforts to improve mask discipline despite it is our best safety net till a vaccine arrives. In retrospect, masks and testing when cases were few and far between in March would have sufficed in place of economically crippling lockdowns. While testing has been ramped up, the same cannot be said for masks.

Casualness is writ large in a large section of the population, making the unlocking underway currently greatly unsafe. While Dr Guleria has advocated hefty fines, a problem governments face is that the virus has now spread to poorer areas and it doesn’t seem to have the capacity to enforce mask wearing. With people struggling to earn a livelihood, paying a fine is beyond the poor. So government must look at options like free distribution of masks in public places. Awareness campaigns are also sorely needed. Politicians posing in public without masks are not just big culprits in violating mask rules, they are a lost opportunity to drill the message into the public mindset.

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