THE government’s order for people to use masks, a highly required safety equipment to stop the spread of COVID-19, is welcome, but the decision to fine anyone violating the directive up to Tk 100,000 or six month’s imprisonment or both appears to be a disproportionate measure. The Directorate General of Health Services issued a notice to this effect on Saturday, a day before the government eased much of the restrictions that had been in place for more than two months since March 26 to curb the COVID-19 outbreak, making the use of mask and adherence to other health safety protocols mandatory during outdoor movement. The notice issued by way of the Communicable Diseases (Prevention, Control and Eradication) Act 2018 stated that anyone violating the directives might be fined up to Tk 1 lakh or six months in jail or both under Sections 24 and 25 of the law and directed district administrations and the other authorities concerned to enforce the orders ‘carefully’. Even if a ‘careful enforcement’ is considered a moderate or considerate enforcement, the punishment looks way too heavy.
The directive can easily be used for personal gains by law enforcers and will, if executed, financially strain people already strained because of the disease outbreak. With the daily infection rate hovering over 2,000 for the past two weeks and more people coming out on the road with the easing of the restrictions, it is mandatory that people should maintain and follow health safety protocols such as wearing masks, washing hands with soap repeatedly and maintaining social distancing. What is unfortunate is that most of the protocols have not been maintained by people and have not been adequately enforced by law enforcers since the government began taking measures in March, contributing to an increase in infection and death. Flawed decisions, mismanagement and slack enforcement of safety protocols, along with lack of awareness of many people, are all that have so far marked the COVID-19 mitigation efforts. It is still worrying that health safety protocols are rampantly violated in workplaces, markets, public transports and roads which certainly require the law enforcers to go tough, whenever and wherever necessary.
A decision to fine a hefty amount or jail term should not, however, be the way to make people wear face masks. Wide awareness campaign, free distribution of face masks by government and non-governmental organisations can easily address the issue adequately. The government must, in such a situation, reconsider its decision regarding the heavy punishment for violation while it must strictly work on and monitor the implementation health safety protocols in workplaces, markets, public transports and roads.
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