Maharashtra Health Minister Rajesh Tope on Saturday said masks have not been made mandatory in the state but advised.
This comes amid confusion over the state government’s latest communication on the use of masks after the state witnessed a steadily spike in COVID-19 cases over the last few days.
The state health department on Friday issued a letter to district and civic authorities, asking them to ramp up testing and advising people to wear masks in enclosed spaces such as trains, buses, cinemas, auditoriums, offices, hospitals, colleges and schools.
But confusion prevailed as to whether it intended to make the use of masks mandatory once again. The mask compulsion had been removed in April.
Speaking to reporters in Pune, Tope said, “Although the letter by the health ministry says the use of masks is a must, it is in fact an appeal to people to wear masks. No action will be taken against those who don’t wear them.”
“Wearing masks is advised in enclosed places such as trains, buses, schools and colleges. People are expected to wear masks in such places,” he added. The surge in COVID-19 cases is noticeable in Mumbai, Pune, Palghar, Thane and parts of Raigad district, the minister said.
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The Union health ministry had also sent an advisory to the state a few days ago regarding the increase in cases, Tope said.
The state task force on COVID-19 which met two days ago in Mumbai decided to appeal to people to wear masks more frequently to minimise the chances of contracting the infection. The state government will observe the situation for the next 15 days, he said.
Though the cases are on the rise, hospitalisations are still very low, indicating that infections are very mild, he said.
The state government has also asked all district collectors and municipal commissioners to accelerate testing and vaccination. The authorities should monitor whether people are wearing masks at designated places, Tope said.
Maharashtra on Friday recorded 1,134 new coronavirus infections, the highest daily rise in cases since February 24, and three deaths. The tally of active cases rose 12 per cent to 5,127.
(With agencies inputs)