Mask Up in Public Space rules Delhi High Court

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Prasad Nair

Mumbai, April 26

A year ago or so, before the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, if anyone was wearing mask on their face then you would have considered them to be doctors after all many of the dentists or other doctors used to wear it in hospitals. People wanting to protect themselves from dust and pollution in factories or exhibition halls during set-up and dismantling also used to wear masks and these were limited for certain hours. The pandemic changed it all with people being forced to wear it all the time while on the move even if they are comfortable with it or not. Moreover authorities are deploying marshal squads to keep a check on persons flouting the rules and fining them.

In a new judgment in the case of Saurabh Sharma vs. Sub-Divisional Magistrate, East & Ors, a single judge bench chaired by Justice Pratibha M. Singh dismissed writ petitions challenging the imposition of fines by Delhi government on persons not wearing masks even when travelling solo in their personal vehicles. Pronouncing the judgment Justice Singh stated, “Wearing of masks or a face cover in a vehicle, which may be occupied by a single person…is compulsory in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic.” The judge also said that a mask is a suraksha kavach for preventing the spread of coronavirus. It protects the person who is wearing it as also the person who is exposed…wearing of masks has been one measure that has saved millions of lives.

The Court ruled that a private vehicle moving in a public place, even if occupied by a single person, is a “public place” for the purposes of Covid-19 control. The ruling stated:

“The person may have visited a market, or workplace, or hospital or a busy street, prior to entering the car or vehicle. Such person may be required to keep windows open for the purposes of ventilation. The vehicle may also be required to be stopped at a traffic signal and the person could purchase any product by rolling down the window. The person may thus, be exposed to a street side vendor… (other occupants) can also be exposed to the virus if the occupant was not wearing the mask. The droplets carrying the virus can infect others even after a few hours after the occupant of the car has released the same. There are several possibilities in which while sitting alone in the car one could be exposed to the outside world. Thus, it cannot be said that merely because the person is travelling alone in a car, the car would not be a public place.”

The judge further opined:

“Immediately upon the outbreak of the pandemic, globally as well as nationally, scientists, researchers, international organizations and governments emphasized the importance of wearing facial masks to control the spread of the disease. In the absence of a complete definitive cure, the world continues to wrestle with the pandemic. The challenge of the pandemic was enormous at the outbreak of the same and even with the introduction of a few vaccines; the emphasis continues to be laid on wearing of face masks. The wearing of masks is necessary irrespective of whether a person is vaccinated or not.”

 The judge also read out the relevant portion of the advisory by World Health Organisation (WHO) on masks in the context of Covid-19 which reads as under:

“Masks should be used as part of a comprehensive strategy of measures to suppress transmission and save lives; the use of a mask alone is not sufficient to provide an adequate level of protection against Covid-19. If COVID-19 is spreading in your community, stay safe by taking some simple precautions, such as physical distancing, wearing a mask, keeping rooms well ventilated, avoiding crowds, cleaning your hands, and coughing into a bent elbow or tissue. Check local advice where you live and work. Do it all! Make wearing a mask a normal part of being around other people. The appropriate use, storage and cleaning or disposals of masks are essential to make them as effective as possible.”

In conclusion the Court said that the petitioners as advocates ought to recognize and assist in the measures to contain the pandemic without questioning the same. Being lawyers they had a higher duty to comply with public health protocols as they were legally trained. As the Court didn’t find any merits in the arguments by the four petitioners, the petitions were dismissed.

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