Tinsukia: A controversy has erupted in this upper Assam district following an order related to “compulsory wearing of masks” signed by the additional district magistrate on March 24, three days before the first phase of polls on March 27, but surfacing only on April 7 on social media platform WhatsApp evoking strong reactions from local residents.

Election xekh hol covid ahi gol (Elections are over and COVID-19 is back),” a member of a WhatsApp group reacted to the order.

Another member questioned when there is no COVID-19, why follow SoPs (standard operating procedures)? Why create panic? He pointed towards Assam health minister Himanta Biswa Sarma’s statement a few days ago.

In the first week of April, Assam health minister Himanta Biswa Sarma had stated that “there is no COVID-19 in Assam” and “wearing of nose mask was not necessary for the citizens” and “why to create unnecessary panic” — a statement which is in complete contrast with the order.

Interestingly, the order, which must have been prepared and signed keeping in mind public health and safety and has a mention “it has appeared to me that the precautionary measures for effective prevention/ containment of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) within the Tinsukia district are ‘immediately needed'”, was little known in public, raising serious questions.

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Reacting to the order in a WhatsApp group, Chinmoy Sarmah, a senior journalist with a vernacular newspaper, said, “I am learning about this order signed on March 24, days before the first phase of polls, only today.”

Speaking with EastMojo, Sarma questioned whether the order was suppressed due to elections. “If not, what was the reason for not making the order public then. Unlike other occasions, why was the order not shared with the media through the press release for wider publicity, since the order was meant for people at large, and media would have been instrumental in communicating it to the masses,” asked Sarmah. 

In the section copy for information and necessary action on page number 2, serial number 8 read: The DIPRO Tinsukia for wide publicity through FLS/AIR/Doordarshan immediately.

A copy of the order (Page 1)
A copy of the order (Page 2)

The order has also advised persons above 65 years of age, persons with co-morbidities, pregnant woman and children below the age of 10 years to stay at home except for essential and health purposes resulting in a dilemma among many residents.

A resident of Tinsukia posted on Whatsapp: “Children below 10 years to stay at home…. School in Tinsukia are open for all… No online classes… Now what should parents do??? Send their child to school or not…”.

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However, several denizens welcomed the order stating it as an important step to control the spread of COVID-19 given the rising cases of the virus in several parts of the country. However, they questioned the delay in making such a crucial order, which is for the benefit of citizens, known to the public.

On March 26, 34 students, one matron and a cook tested positive for COVID-19 at a residential school on the outskirts of Tinsukia. Another 24 students and a watchman from the same school tested positive for COVID-19 a week later.

All attempts to speak to an additional district magistrate of Tinsukia turned futile, and WhatsApp message went unanswered.

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