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Masks disappear in Kolkata Metro, doctors worried

Kolkata, July 4 : Metro Railway seems to have dropped its guard even as the number of Covid-19 cases continue to show a rise in Kolkata and the suburbs.

While passengers are no longer being asked to wear masks -- a precaution prescribed by medical practitioners and supported by the West Bengal government -- even officials and medical staff are appearing without them at events that are being publicised, photographs reveal.

One of the photographs circulated by the Kolkata Metro is of a medical check-up camp organised at the Belgachia station to celebrate Doctor's Day on Friday.

While the lady commuter undergoing the check-up is masked, two health workers sitting close to her have their masks pulled down to their chins.

The second photograph is even more telling. This is during the inauguration of an escalator at the Sovabazar-Sutanuti station on Saturday. None of those present, including the child who is cutting the ribbon, are seen wearing masks.

"The Metro used to be very strict till a few months ago. Why have they dropped their guard at a time when the number of cases are rising? Even on Saturday, more than 1,400 fresh cases and three deaths were reported. The positivity rate is around 14 per cent. The state government has appealed to people to take all precautions and wear masks," a doctor associated with the state Health department said.

Commuters spend a lot of time in an air-conditioned environment while travelling by Metro. In such confined spaces, even one affected person -- even if he is asymptomatic -- can spread the infection to several others. People with co-morbidities are at greater risk and many of them have had to be admitted to hospitals with severe complications.

Another doctor from the R.N. Tagore hospital said how several patients with Covid-19 are now getting admitted to the special ward. Some of them are youngsters without known co-morbidities. The severity of the virus may have got reduced but Covid-19 still remains, he reminded.

"A few days ago, I returned from Mumbai. They were strict about masks at the airport and on-board the flight, even threatening to offload passengers who do not comply. Several establishments in Kolkata, including shopping malls, have now reimposed the mask rule. This is necessary. Metro authorities should take note. After all, its not only passengers but their own staff who are at risk," the doctor said.

A Metro Railway official admitted that there has been a bit of laxity in recent times. The problem is the absence of any circular or notice from the Railway Board. Without such a notice, enforcing a rule becomes difficult as the state government has not yet made masks mandatory in public places.