The film industry people gathered in Mumbai on January 21 for the muhurat (initiation ceremony) of a biopic titled ‘Bangabandhu’. It is a joint collaboration between Bangladesh and India. This photo was given with the press release.

From the above picture one can see more than a dozen people are gathered together who are not wearing a mask and standing together in close proximity from one another. It was reported that the muhurat shot was taken at the Dadasaheb Phalake Chitranagar studio in Mumbai. It was also noted that all the Covid-19 guidelines laid out by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting were followed. The picture begs to differ. About fifteen people in attendance (including a young girl) are mask less. They are all standing very close together as everyone wanted to be included in the iconic picture celebrating the joint venture in creating the upcoming biopic on Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Other dignitaries from the Bangladesh Consulate’s Mumbai office were in attendance. Everything sounds good and dandy from the joint collaboration point of view. The filming is going to start from January 25 and the muhurat was held on the 21st. This project was on hold since March 2020 because of Covid-19. The filming was to begin first in Dhaka and they were supposed to shoot the scenes in Mumbai after that. What changed so drastically that the Mumbai people are now in a hurry to get it going? As far as coronavirus is concerned the cases in Mumbai is still increasing at an alarming rate.

Coronavirus has affected our day to day life and we are dealing with unforeseen challenges. In spite of how the pandemic has impacted our lives, events are being hosted; films are being screened at the international film festivals both in Dhaka and India. Filming of unfinished projects at the face of the deadly coronavirus has been taken up with renewed vigor, such as the ‘Bangabandhu’ biopic. Seeing the picture in a Bangladesh daily made me think is it any wonder why corona cases continue to rise in both Bangladesh and India? Any gathering of people where you are not wearing a mask and maintaining a mandatory six feet distance – is considered super spreader event(s). Didn’t the Mumbai public along with those from Dhaka who were present at the ceremony get the memo?

It is understandable that the livelihoods of the film industry people are on hold and people are struggling with their families to make ends meet. They have waited all these months and why they couldn’t wait until the mass vaccination was well underway? From the look of the people who posed for the photograph, they seem educated and informed people in the industry. What were they thinking when organizing this event and releasing a photo to the press showing them as mask less and huddled together? Unless of course this photo was from pre-corona time and they decided to attach this photo with the news release. Even in that case it will be considered totally irresponsible to add this photo of a group of people together without masks. As it is there is a lot of misinformation out there regarding the benefits of wearing a mask and many people are resistant to the idea of covering their faces. Controversy over mask usage led to many intense debates and many people do not want to ease up on social distancing. Non-mask wearers view it as an “encroachment on their personal freedom” whereas pro-mask campers see this decision is to protect one and others around them while in public. Thinking the above photo is very recent, no one really knows if anyone there is infected by the virus or one is asymptomatic. Were they tested before getting together? Only they can tell.

Yes, life has to go on in the hardest of times and if you do not care about your own safety that is your choice. But you have no business putting others’ health in jeopardy while gathering at an event by ignoring all the rules laid out by the health departments on their websites. It is a fact that a lot of us do not have the luxury to sit at home, or the option to work from home. People who are doing essential service jobs are risking exposure so that others can protect themselves.

To this date the total coronavirus cases in India is 10, 625 420. The total number of death in India has been reported to be 153,053. The state of Maharashtra had 2M covid cases and 50,582 deaths. Bangladesh has reported 530K cases and 7, 950 deaths.

Let me take the case of America. After Donald Trump politicized the wearing of protective masks, it has made many people tizzy about the mask. America so far has lost over 400,000 people to Covid-19. Anti-mask wearers got sick and tired of listening to Dr. Anthony S Fauci saying over and over that wearing a mask while in public stops the virus from spreading. And if you don’t do it for yourself, then you must have regard for others around you. People wrote mean comments this past November when Fauci said he wasn’t going to see his adult children for Thanksgiving to protect himself and his children. People got hyper-stimulated under the threat of the virus. Donald J. Trump served as a bad example and had shown blatant disregard in wearing a mask. When tested positive for Covid-19, he became more defiant even when he was in the hospital. He came out to take a motor ride just to wave at his supporters by risking the lives of the Secret Service people who accompanied him during that ride. Trump supporters took the clue from their ignorant leader that Covid-19 is not that dreadful a disease as everyone is making it out to be. “Trump got well in a few days, so will we.” That was the general sentiment. Well, Trump survived because he was given the most expensive of the experimental drugs that he got for the most severely ill covid patients. Those drugs are not simply available for the general public nor will the insurance companies pay thousands of dollars for the pricey drug for covid treatment. Misinformation, mixed messages from leadership, physicians and scientific community on proper precautions has made people take mask wearing as a debate. No one was consistent with their mandates. Ultimately, such confusions led many people not caring much about the seriousness of coronavirus.

Much of it was evident during Joe Biden’s inauguration on the 20th of January. After publicizing that Biden’s inauguration will look different because of the coronavirus pandemic, strict social distancing guidelines from CDC were not followed. People who attended did wear mask (some wore ill-fitted ones). Bill Clinton’s mask kept on sliding off from his nose while George Bush kept on securing his every few minutes. They all were sitting close to one another. Many attendees hugged, kissed, shook hands (some had no gloves on) and all talked in close proximity to one another. CDC guidelines demanded six feet of distance between individuals who are not from the same household. This is a sensible way to reduce the risk of exposure. The Obamas (known for excessive hugging) didn’t disappoint anyone either. PBS News Hours anchor Judy Woodruff commented with a touch of sarcasm and humor: “Maybe that’s just the urge; finally you are seeing old friends.”

A day after Joe Biden took office he signed 17 executive decisions including mandatory wearing of a mask and safe physical distancing in all federal buildings and on federal lands. It is a sharp contrast from his predecessor who dismissed public health research, scientific data and refused to wear a mask. But Trump cannot be a good role model for many of us. Biden also reinstated American ties with the World Health Organization. Dr. Fauci told WHO that the “United Sates was committed to working closely with other nations to implement a more effective global response to the pandemic.” Fauci set out “broader aims for increasing global pandemic preparedness, including developing an improved early warning and rapid response mechanism for dealing with biological threats and strengthening pandemic supply chains.” – The NY Times.

To blunt the pandemic let us also do our parts to ensure our personal welfare, our family’s health and use common sense in containing this virus. Let us remember that following guidelines might very well save a loved one. Folks, this is not the time to be cynical by either opting out of wearing a mask or maintaining safe physical distance until we all are vaccinated.

Zeenat Khan writes from Maryland, USA


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