One of the headlines in the Sunday Express this past weekend was from the report which stated that police had ticketed 12 persons for not wearing face masks in public.
Those tickets were issued, we were told, in Port of Spain, St James and Sangre Grande. The law had been passed in the Parliament over the previous weekend, making it mandatory for persons to wear their face masks while in public.
Until that significant turning point, the authorities had been saying that while wearing of the masks was not mandatory by law, it gave us the best chance of preventing the spread of Covid-19 from person to person. This has been the mantra for the duration of the public emergency presented by this deadly virus, especially since the first nationwide lockdown was instituted towards the end of March and over these past six months.
Having come through that initial period relatively unscathed when compared with countries in other parts of the world, with eight deaths and a vast majority of persons having recovered after contracting the virus, many in the population appeared to have thrown initial caution to the wind.
Post-election 2020, the Government moved to enact the mask wearing legislation in the face of the rise in cases, and in the resulting increased death toll which has been reported, especially in the period after the August 10 general election.
As of yesterday, the death toll from the virus stood at 37, and the number of active cases was put at 1,506.
But, disconcertingly, there remains too many instances, in localities all across the country, in which citizens are shown to be non-compliant with the social distancing protocol, and the mask wearing law. There is also sufficient observed evidence of persons sporting their masks, but carrying on conversation in close up situations, with neither noses nor mouths properly covered.
Outside the branches of a number of the commercial banks yesterday and in previous days, persons waiting to conduct business could be seen crowded up on one another, waiting their turn to get in. Whereas in that earlier time, security officers were deployed to insist on the six-feet-apart stipulation, citizens left on their own are not bothering to self-regulate.
Management of those financial institutions have clearly abdicated their responsibilities in this regard, and security personnel are therefore not being tasked with maintenance of this ordered preventative measure. In some cases as well, some businesses have set aside stipulated days and times for attending to those clients and customers who are senior citizens. This should become universal across the country’s public and private enterprise system, since this by itself will reduce the need for the long lines snaking around corners on sidewalks in public spaces.
But absolute compliance with the law requiring the wearing of face masks in public must become part of the current normal which, for all intents and purposes, is really not new anymore. It is a most vital component in the triangular set of precautions for entry into any public place, the washing or sanitising of hands and the taking of one’s temperature being the two others.
We simply cannot afford the myriad costs associated with dropping our guard on this critical existential threat.