Fewer people wearing masks due to lax enforcement of health guidelines, false belief that pandemic is over
An alarming number of people in Dhaka are no longer wearing masks regularly as they believe the worst of the Covid-19 pandemic has already passed.
Health guidelines issued by the government are still in effect and initiatives like the “no mask, no service” campaign have been adopted to encourage people to continue wearing masks. However, lax enforcement of the guidelines and initiative is making such moves ineffective.
On a visit to Mohammadpur in the capital, this correspondent found 25-year-old rickshaw puller Md Rashed plying the busy roads without a mask.
When asked where his mask was, Rashed said: “The coronavirus is gone right now, so there is no need to wear the mask. It is difficult to pull the rickshaw all day while wearing a mask.”
He added that there might be a second wave of Covid-19 and more lockdowns in winter and so he needed to earn as much money as possible while he could still work.
“I can work more if I stay fresh by not wearing a mask,” the rickshaw puller added.
At banks in Mohammadpur and Dhanmondi, officials attending the booths were found to be wearing masks, but many service seekers were not. No one was denied service for not wearing a mask, even though Cabinet Secretary Khandker Anwarul had announced instructions to that effect on Sunday.
At Mohammadpur’s Haq Bakery, a staff member said employees had been asked to wear masks, especially when there was a customer, but they did not always do so.
“It is difficult to wear masks for a long period of time. It is not mandatory to wear them,” the staff member added.
Public health experts said giving out announcements was not enough to ensure that people followed instructions. The instructions needed to be enforced.
It was imperative to wear masks to contain transmission of Covid-19 until a vaccine was available, but it appeared that people were unwilling to follow instructions in the absence of strict enforcement, they added.
Prominent virologist Dr Nazrul Islam, a former vice chancellor of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University (BSMMU), earlier this month told Dhaka Tribune: “Everyone must wear masks, maintain social distancing and follow other health rules if we are to avoid the disaster that is a second wave of Covid-19.”
Why are people so reluctant to follow health guidelines?
Public health experts believe the failure to raise public awareness about the continuing threat of Covid-19 is playing a key role in people defying health guidelines.
Public Health Foundation Bangladesh (PHFB) Executive Director Dr Taufique Joarder said there had been no visible change in the behaviour of the general population in the couple of days since the “no mask, no service” announcement.
“There is a difference between saying and implementing. Making an announcement without proper scientific strategy will not work at all. The degree to which people feel threatened by a disaster will determine their motivation to act,” he added.
Dr Taufique, an assistant professor at the James P Grant School of Public Health under BRAC University, further said: “A context specific communication strategy may help make more people wear masks. The strategy should be formulated while considering perceived risk, perceived severity, perceived susceptibility and perceived benefit.
“Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have not seen a campaign from the government that effectively made people understand the risk of not following health rules,” he added.
The health expert suggested the government upload its communication strategy on the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) website, so that private organizations could help and follow the same strategy.
On the other hand, MIS Director of DGHS and spokesperson for the directorate Dr Habibur Rahman said the DGHS had been successful in informing everyone about wearing masks.
“Every person, even children, are aware that they should wear masks. Whether they actually wear masks is another matter, that is about implementation,” the spokesperson added.
He also mentioned that divisional commissioners, deputy commissioners and upazila nirbahi officers (UNOs) had been instructed to step up campaigns to encourage mask wearing in their respective areas.
“The Islamic Foundation has also been instructed to ensure that imams of mosques announce during prayers that the wearing of masks is a government order,” he said.