Assam minister and senior BJP leader Himanta Biswa Sarma hit back Sunday morning after his comment - there is "no Covid in Assam... (so) there is no need to wear a face mask" - led to a row.
"Those who are making fun on my statement on masks must come to Assam and see how we have contained COVID-19, compared to states like Delhi, Kerala and Maharashtra... along with impressive recovery of economy," he tweeted.
"We will celebrate Bihu also with the same enthusiasm this year," he added.
Those who are making fun on my statement on mask, must come to Assam and see how we have contained COVID-19 in compare to the states like Delhi, Kerala, and Maharashtra along with impressive recovery of our economy.We will celebrate Bihu also with the same enthusiasm this year— Himanta Biswa Sarma (@himantabiswa) April 4, 2021
On Saturday Mr Sarma, who is the state health minister, had said: "There is no Covid in Assam... there is no need to wear a face mask now in Assam... If there is a need I will inform the people..."
The remark - made to a reporter from online news website The Lallantop - came on a day India recorded nearly 90,000 new Covid cases in 24 hours - the most in a day since mid-September.
Assam's share in that spike is minimal - 68 new cases and no deaths - but the alarming rate at which the virus is spreading elsewhere - the positivity rate has shot up from 2.2 per cent four weeks ago to 7.1 per cent today - and the potential of more infectious strains has worried the centre enough for Prime Minister Narendra Modi to lead a high-level meeting this morning.
Among those to hit back at Mr Sarma, who received his first Covid vaccine dose early last month, was the Shiv Sena's Priyanka Chaturvedi.
"We have the first state in the country... or rather the world... whose Health Minister has declared it Covid-free and has advised no masks (or) Covid protocols to be followed... We must all celebrate the feat and get WHO (World Health Organization) to endorse it!" she tweeted.
We have the first state in the country or rather the world whose Health Minister has declared it COVID free and has advised no masks needed, no COVID protocols to be followed either. We must all celebrate the feat& get WHO to endorse it! I urge GoI to do the needful!— Priyanka Chaturvedi (@priyankac19) April 4, 2021
Mr Sarma's comment is in contradiction to rules - which include the use of face masks when outdoors and the need to practice social distancing - laid down by the centre to contain the virus.
Face masks have also been strongly recommended by global health agencies like the WHO and the governments of other countries, even for those who show no symptoms or have got the vaccine.
Assam has been widely praised for its ability, so far, to control the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
However, with the state holding Assembly elections - the third and final phase will be held on Tuesday - the sight of thousands of people without masks and standing shoulder-to-shoulder at poll rallies is a source of concern, with many wary of a renewed wave of infections in the weeks to come.