HE Delhi High Court Wednesday held that the wearing of a mask or a face cover in a vehicle, which might be occupied by either a single person or multiple persons was compulsory in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.
A mask is a `Suraksha kavach’ for preventing the spread of the coronavirus. It protects the person wearing it, as also the persons to whom the person is exposed, the High Court held.
It added “a vehicle which is moving across the city, even if occupied at a given point in time by one person, would be a public place owing to the immediate risk of exposure to other persons under varying circumstances. Thus, a vehicle even if occupied by only one person would constitute a ‘public place’ and wearing of a mask therein, would be compulsory”.
A single-judge bench of Justice Pratibha Singh was ruling on a petition filed by four advocates challenging the imposition of a fine of Rs.500/-, on them, for non – wearing of face masks while travelling alone in a private car.
Justice Singh dismissed the petitions and said that the petitioners being advocates/lawyers ought to recognise and assist in the implementation of measures to contain the pandemic, rather than questioning the same.
“Advocates as a class, owing to their legal training have a higher duty to show compliance especially in extenuating circumstances such as the pandemic”, Justice Singh said.
She pointed out that wearing masks could not be made an ego issue.
“Compliance by advocates and lawyers would encourage the general public to show greater inclination to comply. The duty of advocates and lawyers is of a greater magnitude, especially in the context of the pandemic for enforcement of directives, measures and guidelines issued under the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897 and the Disaster Management Act, 2005”, the High Court said.
The court was considering whether a person travelling alone in a moving car or vehicle could be exposed to other persons and if the answer to this in an affirmative, then the car or private vehicle would be a public place for the purpose of the present case.
The Court was of the view that the word ‘public place’, had to be interpreted in this case in the context of the COVID pandemic.
“To determine what constitutes a `public place’ the manner in which the Coronavirus can spread is the crucial part. It is now settled and accepted universally that the coronavirus spreads through droplets either through the breathing of a person or from the mouth. The risk of exposure increases multiple times if a person comes into contact with a person who is infected and is not wearing a mask”, the High Court said.
Answering the question, the high court said a person travelling in a vehicle or car even if he was alone, could be exposed to the virus in various ways. Illustrating it further, the High Court said the person might have visited a market, or workplace, or hospital or a busy street, prior to entering the car or vehicle.
Such a person might be required to keep windows open for the purposes of ventilation. The vehicle might also be required to be stopped at a traffic signal and the person could purchase any product by rolling down the window. The person may thus, be exposed to a street-side vendor, the Court observed
When a person travels in the car alone, the High Court, the status not a permanent one. It is merely a temporary phase. There could be other occupants in the car prior to the said phase and post the said phase. There could be elderly family members or children who may be picked from the school or even simply friends or colleagues may travel in the car in the immediate future.
“Such persons can also be exposed to the virus if the occupant was not wearing the mask. The droplets carrying the virus can infect others even after a few hours after the occupant of the car has released the same. There are several possibilities in which while sitting alone in the car one could be exposed to the outside world. Thus, it cannot be said that merely because the person is travelling alone in a car, the car would not be a public place”, HC opined.