The novel coronavirus outbreak seems to have brought the dual nature of humanity to new levels of absurdity. And in India with its 1.3 billion-strong population, it seems the crisis has barely revealed its tip with a majority of the population still ignorant to the true extent of the problem.
On Sunday, Indians across the country observed a 14-hour long "Janata Curfew" from 9 am in the morning in keeping with Prime Minister Narendra Modi's call for self-isolation and social distancing. The call to action included coming to one's own balcony at 5 pm, a la Italy, and clapping or beating utensils together as a mark of respect for the frontline health workers and medical professionals who were working day and night to contain the COVID-19 pandemic and selflessly treating patients who are affected by it.
Sunday morning saw desi social media swarming with posts about birds chirping and eery silences on empty streets as Indians across the nation stayed indoors to observe the curfew. Shops and public transport remained shut and people from various walks of life seemed to be practicing social distancing, Many even shares their inspiring lockdown diaries with the world.
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) March 22, 2020
Union Minister Smriti Irani even indulged in a game of "Twitter Antakshari" to keep Indians busy and, more importantly, indoors. However, the evening saw many enthusiastic Indians take to the streets. Ironically, it was to support the BJP government's call to commemorate doctors. At 5 pm, many Indians who had so far remained indoors took to streets with pots and pans, drums and conches, and cheerfully celebrated the victories of doctors. One can only guess what exactly they were celebrating since the virus is still at large and spreading rapidly with experts claiming India has already entered the third phase of transmission of the virus. While attempts to flatten the curve that represents the virus's spread have begun, it seems many Indians continue to neither understand the severity of the situation or have a clue about what social distance or self-isolation even means. Sample some of these instances from across the country. People in Mysuru were seen beating drums and clapping together on a street.
Mysureans express gratitude to those providing essential services amid #CoronavirusPandemic.#JantaCurfew pic.twitter.com/huJnpz3Gj2 — Bangalore Mirror (@BangaloreMirror) March 22, 2020
Mumbiakars were also seen "celebrating" the "demise of coronavirus" as an angry netizen almost succinctly put.
Bombay folks celebrating the demise of coronavirus by coming out on the street in groups pic.twitter.com/nNQ8uNb3Bt
— Ankur Bhardwaj (@Bhayankur) March 22, 2020
People in Jaipur also took to the streets to beat vessels. They brought children too.
Thread Visuals from #Rajasthan Men, women , children come out on streets of Jaipur to support unsung heroes of our society In the backdrop of iconic hawa mahal chant slogans #CoronaBhagao #ThaliBajao #JantaCurfew #JantaCurfewChallenge#Covid_19india #CoronavirusPandemic pic.twitter.com/x7smbL17hD — Tabeenah Anjum (@TabeenahAnjum) March 22, 2020
Similar scenes were seen in Indore, Madhya Pradesh.
Indore. I'm speechless. I'm crestfallen. I'm defeated.pic.twitter.com/sxuqEeAAXC
— Roflindian (@Roflindian) March 22, 2020
More Punjab. What a fantastic job we did today. pic.twitter.com/yD7slwSVqA
— Roflindian (@Roflindian) March 22, 2020
In fact, such videos poured in from a number of cities across India.
Visuals from #Ahmedabad | Hundreds of people gathered amid the deadly #Coronavirus scare to participate in the '#JantaCurfew' Via: @ahmedabadmirror pic.twitter.com/gWQTY8erUd — Mumbai Mirror (@MumbaiMirror) March 22, 2020
The point of the Janata Curfew should have been to preach the importance of self-isolation and social distancing, which medical experts and epidemiologists across the world have agreed upon as effective means to slow down, if not completely stop, the transmission of the virus.
However, many Indians seem neither aware nor concerned about the pandemic that has already killed over 13,000 people across the world in a span of just three months.
Delhi Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia tweeted one such video, captioning it, "These people are society's Corona. Before the treatment of Corona, this disease needs to be treated. Otherwise, the work of our health workers and doctors will be a waste."
ये लोग समाज के कोरोना हैं... कोरोना से पहले इस बीमारी का इलाज ज़रूरी है....नहीं तो मेडिकल स्टाफ़ व डॉक्टर्स की सारी मेहनत बेकार चली जाएगी. https://t.co/RhWrNBJcqf
— Manish Sisodia (@msisodia) March 22, 2020
Indian billionaire entrepreneur Kiran Mazumdar show also tweeted yet another video of people taking to the streets and wrote, "This is not what the Prime Minister wanted".
This is NOT what our PM @narendramodi ji wanted. Don’t they understand what social distancing means? pic.twitter.com/XR0EFMXr7s — Kiran Mazumdar Shaw (@kiranshaw) March 22, 2020
One of the biggest problems seems to be misinformation. With PM Modi announcing a 14-hour curfew on Friday, it seems many assumed the virus would only last for twelve hours. The call for clapping for five minutes during the curfew also convinced many that the virus could be killed by loud "vibrations". The volume of the misinformation, which was spread via social media and messaging platforms like WhatsApp was such that even the Press Information Bureau of India had to issue a clarification.
NO ! The vibration generated by clapping together will NOT destroy #Coronavirus infection#PIBFactCheck: The #JantaCurfew clapping initiative at 5pm is to express gratitude towards the Emergency staff working selflessly to counter #coronavirusinindia #Covid19India pic.twitter.com/WHfK4guxys
— PIB Fact Check (@PIBFactCheck) March 22, 2020
Despite repeated advisories, it seems Indians at large remain unaware of what the COVID-19 virus is, how it spreads, and how important it is to arrest its rate of transmission. As per a recent survey conducted by Josh Talks, over 60 percent of the 45,000 Indians interviewed were of the belief that coronavirus would not affect India as it was a warmer country.
It is true that the efforts of the Indian government in terms of making people more aware of the measure to take against coronavirus have spanned all mediums including messaging though traditional media channels as well newer, digital mediums such as social media. However, the incidents on Sunday may go some way in proving that the messaging on "Janata Curfew" has to change to solve what could potentially be the worst public health crisis the country (and the world) has ever faced: Beat your thali, in your home.
This morning, Prime Minister Narendra Modi took to Twitter to tell Indians that lockdown needs to be taken seriously.
लॉकडाउन को अभी भी कई लोग गंभीरता से नहीं ले रहे हैं। कृपया करके अपने आप को बचाएं, अपने परिवार को बचाएं, निर्देशों का गंभीरता से पालन करें। राज्य सरकारों से मेरा अनुरोध है कि वो नियमों और कानूनों का पालन करवाएं।— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) March 23, 2020