Kerala has re-imposed a strict mask mandate in view of a steady rise in the number of daily new Covid-19 cases and a ‘disturbing uptick’ in mortality during the past one month or more. An executive order circulated to district police chiefs on Tuesday has made wearing of masks mandatory in public places, violation of which will be punishable under provisions of the Disaster Management Act and relevant laws.

Short-lived reprieve

The emerging scenario is in sharp contrast to the situation obtaining in April, when the Covid-19 graph in the state had pateaued to around 300 daily new cases for over a week, and active cases had fallen below the 3,000 mark. It had prompted the State government to withdraw all Covid-related curbs on civic life on April 7. But the reprieve was short-lived when Omicron sub-variants forced it to re-invoke the curbs.

Daily new cases on the up

A Government Order came into force on April 27, making masks mandatory in public places, workplaces and during transport. Daily new cases have risen steadily since the last week of May. The active case burden had swollen to 3,000-4,000 during the last week of the month, rising many times over to 28,086 a month later on Wednesday morning, with 12 more deaths. Related mortality, too, has shown a rise, with over 180 deaths reported during June alone (until Wednesday).

Related protocols flouted

A section of public health activists contradicts the view that Omicron variants don’t necessarily take lives, but only lay up a patient briefly. Authorities, too, had stopped stopped checking for violations of protocols. This may have led an already pandemic-fatigued people to take Covid-related protocols lightly, even flout them at will. Wearing of masks, use of sanitisers and physical distancing has been observed more in the breach during the last few months.

Schools reopen

Schools in the state re-opened in early June, exposing a large numbers of unvaccinated children to the virus. Official sources and public health experts agree that the current surge can be linked to the free mobility and large-scale mixing, even as indoor gatherings have resumed at increasing frequency while not observing Covid-appropriate behaviour. The test positivity rate had eased to 17.62 per cent on Monday from 18 per cent-plus in the previous couple of days. This is what seemed to have led the government to order a mask mandate afresh, and direct the police to ensure strict enforcement.