With the pandemic situation of coronavirus, people are worried about being vulnerable to inviting the novel virus COVID-19. There are three phases of disease transmission that were recognised before it was declared a pandemic. Firstly, transmission from those coming from another infected country; secondly, localised transmission, and thirdly, community transmission. As per the ICMR updates, India has not shown evidence for third phase.
The reason for the slow progression of the virus in India attributes to low testing. The ICMR stated that there’s a lack of proper precautionary measures, and the Indian healthcare industry still requires 7.7 million kits to conduct proper testing. Meanwhile, experts have recommended behavioural practices such as self-quarantining and social distancing oneself for at least 2-14 days. For a society with a vast cultural pattern, it becomes quite a challenge to consider the technicalities of ‘social distancing’ as a concept and put it into practice. Let us understand what it means, how it can be practised, debunk a few myths, unearth the facts, and critically assess the usage of correct terminology.
The impression is that in public places, one can never recognise a carrier/infected by their physical symptoms. Therefore, the intention remains to limit the chances of getting in contact with the virus, which could even be sitting on the person next to you. Any person who might be symptomatic or infected has to be kept at bay, especially from the most vulnerable population, including the elderly, pregnant women, young children or those living with chronic illnesses. The WHO identifies this distance as one metre, while the CDC has set the minimal measure of ‘distancing’ as two metres. The MoHFW refers to social distancing as non-pharmaceutical infection prevention and control intervention against the same.
The term ‘social distancing’ is frequently used interchangeably with self-quarantining or isolating, but they are technically very different. It is different from quarantine, which restricts the movement of only those who have been exposed to a contagious environment, in order to confirm the presence or absence of symptoms, while maintaining distance from others as a precautionary step.
In the case of isolation, the infected individuals are kept away from the non-infected ones. The three processes would happen simultaneously, but the point of reference varies. Social distancing, in comparison to quarantine or isolation, is a slow process, and apparently take weeks. Expecting an immediate dramatic effect is definitely a false apprehension. Therefore, the casual attitude of the millennials that COVID-19 won’t affect them is a total myth. In no time, we could reach phase three, and this attitude will bear us consequences. Thus, it is advisable to cover your face and sanitise oneself frequently, for the sake of self and for others.
Considering that under social distancing, extermination of human interactions is off beam, the general practice should be physically distancing oneself, while maintaining a desirable distance with proper measures in place. Physical distancing is supposed to be distinct from emotional detachment as, for a longer duration of self-quarantine, or isolation, and keeping oneself at distance from everyone can have severe consequences on one’s psychological well-being. Absolute isolation has no alternative. The infected elderly have to see off their families from their isolation wards, which could also be their deathbed in some cases, and nothing could be more heart wrenching than to hear the stories about them.
The BBC news channel reported that currently there is no effective vaccine, drug, or therapy available. Thus, social distancing has to be practised for ‘at least half a year’. Globally, social gatherings such as public transportation, university gathering (seminars, conferences, workshops etc.), sports events and others stand cancelled or postponed.
As witnessed, the pandemic situation is giving us a good opportunity to call for our routine habits, use sanitisers, cover our face, not sneeze overtly, and revisit our childhood lessons in physical education class. Currently, a few tactics to deal with this pandemic situation are being passed on from ear to ear, so forth the myths, and hence the panic. One should be very careful in following a proper reference protocol and not fall prey to fabrication.
It is advisable to follow government notifications, rather than social media. The recently observed ‘janta curfew’ on 22nd March 2020 and the nationwide lockdown were brought in a similar light, parallel to prohibitions on large gatherings being practised globally. The imposition of fine stands wrong in the path of the socially vulnerable sections, who might have lost their livelihood, their families or homes, during the course of protests over the past few months. Moreover, this distancing should come from within as a concern, and not as a dutiful restriction or millennial attitude.
On 28th March, the WHO posted a fact check update, asserting that coronavirus is not airborne. Instead, it is spread from an infected to a healthy person if they are in close proximity. Thus, measures need to be taken to cover oneself while sneezing or coughing to avoid any means of spread. This is done through physical distancing, as mentioned above, adhering to social obedience, social respect and showing social solidarity towards those infected from a distance, without losing on emotional support.
Let us join our own hands, practise physical distancing, stand together (at a metre distance) in the struggle, fully equipped, and fight against this pandemic. Social media is flooded with memes on working from home, but let us practise social distancing, amalgamating physical distancing and social solidarity as a respectful reply to those struggling with their lives alone. This generation is witnessing a historical episode, and we should strive to serve for a better future.