Coronavirus: Dealing With The Challenge of Social Distancing In India

Coronavirus: Dealing With The Challenge of Social Distancing In India

In the last few days, the number of COVID-19 cases has more than trebled in India. In less than a month, the global number of confirmed COVID-19 cases doubled from about 75,000 cases on February 20 to more than 153,000 on March 15. It is now known to all that a pandemic like the novel Coronavirus-induced COVID-19 spreads through touch and exposure to infected droplets. In India, as of 19 March 2020 (9:00 AM), a total of 166 COVID-19 cases (141 Indians and 25 foreign nationals) have been reported in 18 states/union territories. These include 15 who have recovered and 3 reported deaths. While it might come as a difficult bite to chew, there is a need to acknowledge that India, as a cultural landscape thrives on its ability to be ultra-social. Think of a basic day in your life as an Indian and you might come to realise that not a single day passes without our interaction with at least four people. Think of all our festivals and other basic cultural routines embedded deeply in the fabric of India’s society. On looking closely, one might find that they share a common strain- lack of social distancing. ‘Social distance’ for the longest time was only practised with respect to historically derided biases pertaining to casteism and patriarchy (think of distance to be maintained during menstruation), amongst others. Besides all of this, even our infrastructure and public space set-ups don’t promote social distance as a cardinal element.

Now, however, as we stand face-to-face with a condition that can only be contained with social restraint, it is the need of the hour to understand what social distancing entails and how exactly can it help contain the spread of the coronavirus. The concept of Social Distancing needs to be read in the light of the fact that it won’t stop Covid-19 completely but will mean that not everyone catches it at once. To this end, scientists and social scientists are using the parallel concept of ‘Flattening the Curve’.

A high curve would mean that the virus is spreading fast and is getting out of hand of the healthcare system capacity. Alternatively, a lower, flatter curve would signify slower transmission. It would also ensure that the finite resources available for treatment are not overtaxed.

Social Distancing and Flattening the Curve

Put simply, the purpose behind social distancing as a public health safety intervention is to limit the number of people who get infected at once so that the overall number of infected people does not go beyond the capacity a particular country’s healthcare system is able to sustain. This is why, large gatherings, events, even public transport that doesn’t ensure the minimum required distance between people are largely being discouraged. By maintaining appropriate distance and not accidentally acquiring the virus or spreading it further, a particular society can greatly reduce the number of cases at any given point of time. This, in turn, will give doctors, hospitals and vaccine-generators the time and space they need to cure patients as well as develop medication for the same.

It is deeply worrisome that India might not be screening enough patients. With a healthcare system as uneven as it is in India, it is easily possible for one to escape diagnosis and end up spreading the disease to other people. India is conducting only about 90 tests a day, despite having the capacity for as many as 8,000. So far, 11,500 people have been tested, according to The Associated Press.

This gives us all the more reason to stop the chain and self-contain or self-quarantine in order to stop the spread.

To this end, on March 15, the Union Health Ministry released a 15-point advisory to the state governments to close down places and business seeing a huge footfall such as malls, schools, gyms, theatres etc. The Health Ministry has also asked people to avoid non-essential travel within the country as part of what has been described as social distancing.

Why Self-Quarantine?

A whole lot of people are convinced that with a young or healthy immune system amongst other fathomable reasons, they should not feel the need to self-quarantine since they will not catch the coronavirus. However, it is important to consider that even if a seemingly healthy person catches it and recovers, it could be that before she is completely well, she might go ahead and infect at least two to three people, amongst whom could be people with auto-immune illnesses or elderly people who might not be able to take the blow. It could also be a medical professional, the absence of whom could affect many more lives.

As China, South Korea and other countries, even including India have demonstrated and are demonstrating, it is possible to slow the spread of the virus and limit how many people are infected at one time.

How Long Will I Be Quarantined?

Truth be told, no one really knows. The New York Times says, “... if South Korea and China are appropriate exemplars, we’ll need to stay apart now for at least eight weeks, and maybe more. ... That timeline suggests that your kids are not going back to school on April 1.” It might also be a possibility that there might have to be several rounds of self-quarantining.

These are highly anxious times and the fear of the unknown has made it all the more difficult. Panic is but natural but it is also important to remember that above anything else, the novel coronavirus is causing a social illness, and so it can also only be contained the way it spreads⁠—through social initiative. This is why, stay home, practise good hygiene and adopt socially intelligent ways to navigate your life in these unsettling times. Most certainly, given India’s intrinsic lack of penchant towards social distance, it can seem to be a challenge, but when has not said, ‘Challenge Accepted’?

Feature Illustration By Akanksha Bhat For Homegrown

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