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Assam’s Health Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma’s statement that people need not wear masks any longer is possibly the most ridiculous assertion in recent times.

The nation is in the grip of the second wave of the Covid19 pandemic. Scary facts reveal the rapid increase in the number of new cases every 24 hours. If 1.31 lakh new cases a few days ago were bad enough, 1.52 lakh new cases in the last 24 hours is far worse.

The situation is threatening to deteriorate rapidly, if recent indications in terms of daily growth can be viewed as a parameter for assessment.

To what extent are we, the people, responsible for this surge? There is little doubt that, after India appeared to have flattened the curve, the majority had thrown caution to the winds. Life, for them, had returned to being as it used to be during the old normal.

Also read: Covid19 claims 904 more people in India in last 24 hours; 1.68 lakh new positive cases detected

Even when the first wave had peaked, the idea of wearing masks seemed to be a bad one for most anyway.

Defying SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures), people could be spotted without masks in crowded public places whenever the lockdown restrictions were relaxed.

In recent times, the number of such individuals had multiplied, increasing the chances of the spread of infection manifold.

Also read: 1 more dies of Covid19 in Assam; 352 new cases including 186 in Guwahati detected

Social distancing, likewise, had been reduced to being an expression in circulation that didn’t mean much in practical terms. Crowded tea stalls, small groups of people sitting and chatting by the roadside: these invited the spread of the contagious and potentially fatal disease across the country.

Economic activities had to be restarted to get the nation back on track. Millions had suffered during the closure of businesses. They could not be made to suffer any longer Return to normalcy meant the revival of interaction, leading to the possibility of infected persons passing on the disease to others.

Of course, this was a risk the country had to take if the wheels of the economy had to keep moving forward, Coming to a standstill could not have been a long-term solution.

The nation’s economy seemed to have woken up from an unwanted slumber when the second wave hit us hard. Vaccination was in full swing when new numbers declared its arrival.

India, in short, is back to being where it was a few months ago. Apprehensions fill the air. Complete and partial lockdowns and night curfews have been declared in affected areas across the country. The list of places where restrictions in varying degrees have been imposed continues to grow longer with each passing day.

Not every place is as badly hurt as, say, Maharashtra and Delhi where the pandemic is on a rampage. But there are clear signs of worry with states and UTs fighting grim battles to contain the deadly virus.

The world had seen nothing like the Covid19 pandemic in the 21st century. While some analysts would prefer to focus on the low fatality rate and high recovery rate compared to that unleashed by pandemics in the past,

It is important to emphasise that Covid19 spreads with incredible swiftness. Even the slightest degree of indifference, coupled with an iota of misfortune, can infect the unsuspecting with ease.

That is the truth we must accept as we stay indoors, stepping out with masks on only when it is necessary. That will go on a long way in keeping the numbers in check and also help the stressed-out healthcare sector to function more efficiently.

Whether or not the second wave will equal or even surpass the destructive impact of its predecessor will largely depend on whether or not people will act responsibly and contribute to keeping the virus at bay.

What we do not need is an over-confident India with its citizens roaming the streets without taking adequate precautions and violating SOPs with self-destructive over-confidence. What we need is extreme caution and respect for expert advice. Now.

Biswadeep Ghosh

Biswadeep Ghosh is an author and freelance journalist. He has been a part of the India media for three decades. Among his books is MSD: The Man The Leader, the bestselling biography of cricketer MS Dhoni....