Dear Himanta, Assam is Not ‘COVID-Free’; People Need to Wear Masks

Data provided by both the central and the state governments refutes Sarma’s claim.

3 min read
Assam Health Minister and BJP leader Himanta Biswa Sarma.

Even as all of India continues to witness an unrelenting surge of coronavirus cases, Assam Health Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma on Saturday, 3 April, claimed that the people of Assam need not wear masks to protect themselves from the life-threatening virus because...“there is no COVID-19 in the state.”

However, data provided by both the central and the state governments refutes Sarma’s claim. According to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW), as on Monday, 5 April, Assam has a total of 1,964 active COVID cases and the state government’s dashboard – updated at 1:07 pm on 5 April – shows 515 active cases in the state.


What Did Himanta Sarma Say?

Speaking to news website The Lallantop, Sarma said that the “Centre can instruct us, but in the context of Assam, there is no COVID these days.”

“COVID is under control in Assam. There is no need to wear masks. The central government can issue orders, but in the context of Assam, there is no COVID as of today. Why should we create unnecessary panic? I will tell people when there will be a need to wear masks again.”
Himanta Biswa Sarma, Assam Health Minister

Sarma further added that the government’s priority now is to revive the state’s economy and if people wear masks, how will beauty parlours make money.

But, What Do Assam’s COVID-19 Numbers Suggest?

While Assam’s coronavirus numbers are not very high, it will be misleading to claim that the state is completely free of the virus.

As per the data provided by MoHFW, Assam has 1,964 active COVID-19 cases as on Monday, 5 April, with an increase of 19 cases between 4 and 5 April.

Dear Himanta, Assam is Not ‘COVID-Free’; People Need to Wear Masks
(Source: MoHFW/Screenshot)

The state government’s dashboard, however, reports a different number of COVID cases – according to their website, the figure lies at 515.

Dear Himanta, Assam is Not ‘COVID-Free’; People Need to Wear Masks
(Source: Government of Assam/Screenshot)

We also looked at the number of new cases which were reported in the state between 29 March to 4 April and found that barring a fall from 53 new cases on 30 March to 49 new cases on 31 March, the number of new cases in the state has witnessed an increase.

Sarma also advised people against wearing a mask. So, let’s also look at whether masks are effective and useful or not.

Are Masks Effective?

Since the outbreak of coronavirus in December 2019, doctors and healthcare experts across the globe have emphasised on the importance of masks in preventing the spread of the virus.

In multiple stories done over several months The Quint has spoken to these experts to understand the role of face masks in restricting the spread of COVID-19.

While highlighting the importance of masks, in an interview, ICMR Director-General Dr Balram Bhargava said that “masks will probably be the last to go and probably may never even go.”

Further, advisories by the World Health Organization (WHO), Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and the Health Ministry have also time and again highlighted the importance of face masks in fighting the pandemic.

In its guidelines, US’ Center for Disease Control and Prevention has also stated that mask is not a substitute for social distancing and should be worn in addition to maintaining a safe distance.

And at a time when India witnessed its highest-ever single day spike of 1 lakh cases since the outbreak of coronavirus pandemic, on 5 April, the government is repeatedly emphasising on the need to practise social distancing and wearing masks at all times. Amid this, Himanta Biswa Sarma’s remark on Assam being “COVID-free” is not just misleading in terms of facts and figures but is also highly irresponsible.

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