The ghastly video of violence unleashed by an Andhra Pradesh Government employee on a differently abled woman colleague, purportedly for asking him to don a mask in the office, has gone viral on social media, triggering outrage against the torture that the woman has been subjected to. The authorities have suspended the man and he is being tried for misdemeanour. Terrible as the brutal action is, the incident, in these coronavirus times, underscores the toll that a pandemic along with the quarantine and lockdown set off by it can take on vulnerable people.
Such extreme aggression in reaction to a reasonable demand is definitely not normal. For, the vital role of the protective face cover is felt by one and all. From day one of the outbreak of the disease, doctors have been emphasising the importance of wearing face masks — along with maintaining physical distancing — to combat the spread of the dreaded virus. Rising to the challenge posed by the contagious disease, the government has made mask-wearing mandatory in public and prescribed a fine of Rs 500 for those flouting the norm. People can be seen adhering to the directive, urgently driven by the need of shielding themselves and their contacts from possible infection. As a result, the global disposable face mask market is expected to grow at the rate of 53 per cent to reach $23.8 billion by 2027. The investigation into the Andhra man’s flare-up might unmask some underlying mental condition, exacerbated by the prevailing trying circumstances.
Going by past experience, the World Health Organisation has highlighted the need to think about mental health as part of the public health response to Covid-19. There is significant evidence that a virulent sickness can cause widespread fear, panic, anxiety and xenophobia. As we deal with the physical, financial and social implications of the illness, the policymakers cannot ignore the psychological and psychiatric impact that it can have on not only the Covid survivors and frontline health staff but also the general public.