Rajat Sharma

Social distancing is a must for combating Coronavirus

AKB2610There is not an iota of doubt that timely steps taken by Prime Minister Narendra Modi contributed a lot in containing the spread of deadly Coronavirus across India in recent weeks. The Prime Minister himself monitored the evolving situation and the Prime Minister’s Office coordinated all efforts to prevent the spread of the virus.

Steps were taken at lightning speed to bring back Indians from Wuhan, Iran and other places. Quarantine centres were set up in and around Delhi, and now the state governments are ready with their own quarantine centres. A network of virus testing centres was activated and measures to close down shops, shrines, national parks, cinema halls and shopping malls were taken to prevent the spread of the virus.

Though there is a general sense of relief, the oncoming challenge is a huge one and the risks are deadly. All of us will have to cooperate with the Centre and state governments to stop the spread of the virus.

On Monday, India TV reporters from Maharashtra filed reports on how Coronavirus suspects fled from hospitals in Panvel, Navi Mumbai, Pune and Nagpur causing more risks to those who have not been affected. Extreme caution is the need of the hour and we cannot afford Coronavirus suspects to move around.

Let me tell you how other countries dealt with similar situations. When the Coronavirus originated from China, the countries that were on the radar were Singapore, Hong Kong (autonomous part of China), Taiwan, Japan, North and South Korea, and Thailand, because mostly people of Chinese origin travel to these places. These countries had already experienced the fallout of the 2003 SARS epidemic and they knew what precautions to take. They immediately clamped lockdowns and ensured social distancing to stop the spread of Coronavirus.

In faraway Italy, the warning was not heeded in time, and within a matter of two weeks, the number of Coronavirus cases jumped from 300 to 10,000. The deaths were mainly due to delay in testing the patients and thousands of people did not even know that they had been infected. The point to note is that the virus spread to Italy and South Korea almost at the same time, but the Koreans conducted massive tests and checking and controlled the spread of the virus.

In India too, we conducted checks on all incoming travellers and quarantined all those who showed initial symptoms. Our authorities traced the travel history and contacts of those whose cases were found positive. That is why we in India can at least heave a sigh of relief for the time being, but the threat in the coming weeks is still looming.

My appeal to all of you is: please do not run away from hospitals, if you or your friends or relatives show symptoms of the virus. By fleeing hospitals, you would be putting more people at risk. The next two weeks are vital. If one is put in isolation, he or she should remain so and avoid mixing with others. That is how we can save ourselves, our family members, and in a larger sense, our society.

On precautions, I have spoken to a number of doctors and their first advice was: Avoid travel, whether domestic or international, by air or by train or by bus. Travel is the biggest carrier of this virus.

Secondly, avoid going to places where more than 10 to 50 or 100 people congregate in a closed space. The virus can spread there easily. These places could be temples, mosques, shrines, shopping malls, weekly markets, departmental stores, popular tourist spots, sporting events, bars and clubs, and political or social gatherings that include weddings.

If we can exercise self-restraint on these lines, we would be fortunate enough to avoid the virus, but do not for a moment think that there is no use only isolating myself. Do not be under the false impression that the severe heat of Indian summer beginning next month will save people from this virus.

Also, do not be under the false impression that since we are Indians and have different lifestyles and food habits, we can save ourselves. Do not think we are Bahubalis and can counter this virus threat easily. Social distancing is a must and a slight mistake on our part can not only endanger ourselves but can also pose a big risk to others in society.

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