Assam Health Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma has gone viral for all the wrong reasons, claiming that there was no need to wear masks within the state as it no longer had COVID-19 cases. And while he appears to be standing by his comments, the data (as well as Opposition leaders) do not agree. Not to mention, his quip about how beauty parlours would run if people continued to wear masks has not gone down well with many.
In a video that has since been shared widely by critics, he can be seen assuring a reporter that while the Centre was putting forth instructions urging people to wear masks in public, this did not apply in the context of Assam. "At this time, COVID-19 is not there in Assam," he explains, adding that masks were no longer necessary.
The Health Minister added that he would inform people if the need to wear a mask arose once again. "If people wear masks, how will beauty parlours run? They also need to operate," he adds.
Since then, alongside attending poll rallies, Sarma has also found himself defending his remarks, even as other official sources and platforms continue to disagree. The PIB's Assam Twitter handle for example continues to tweet daily reminders about wearing masks and taking other precautions. We also feel compelled to interject here that the Union Health Ministry website puts the total number of active COVID-19 cases in Assam as of Monday morning at 1964. And while this would mean the situation is far less grim than in states such as Delhi or Maharashtra, the virus is by no means gone from Assam.
"Those who are making fun on my statement on mask, must come to Assam and see how we have contained COVID-19 in compare to the states like Delhi, Kerala, and Maharashtra along with impressive recovery of our economy. We will celebrate Bihu also with the same enthusiasm this year," he tweeted as critical comments began to fly.
As many have pointed out, the Health Minister advocating against a precautionary measure that has been put forth by the Centre as well as international organisations does not bode well. The comments also come against the backdrop of the state Assembly elections. And with politicians holding large-scale events to drum up support in recent weeks, there are now additional opportunities for the virus to spread.
Needless to say, it has now become yet another bone of contention between the various political parties, with Opposition leaders repeatedly hitting out at him over the clip.
"We have the first state in the country or rather the world whose Health Minister has declared it COVID free and has advised no masks needed, no COVID protocols to be followed either. We must all celebrate the feat& get WHO to endorse it! I urge GoI to do the needful!" jibed Rajya Sabha MP and Shiv Sena leader Priyanka Chaturvedi.