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PM Modi Wants 'Janta Curfew' for a Day, But Doctors Want Indians to Stay Indoors Much Longer

Image for representation.

Image for representation.

'People are concerned about missing out on work. But if we miss the chance to contain the disease now, there might be no work left,' says Dr.Amrita Basu.

The Coronavirus pandemic possibly only became real to many Indians after the Prime Minister addressed the nation and asked the country to follow 'Janta Curfew' on Sunday.

While the government is taking steps, including the shutting down of schools, public places and parks, prevent the spread of COVID-19, which so far, doesn't have a vaccine, the messaging of social distancing wasn't taken quite seriously by fellow Indias.

Meanwhile, the Indian Council of Medical Research has announced after testing 826 random samples, that there have been no confirmed cases of community transmission in India, yet. Yet seems to be the keyword here.

But does the world's largest democracy have the resources to check community transmission, once it starts? Here's what India's current health facilities look like.

As workplaces and organizations are encouraging people to work from home to prevent the chance of community spread, 'social-distancing' is being recommended over and over. Celebrities and prominent public figures, but more importantly, doctors are also recommending that you, very simply put, maintain your distance.

What is social distancing? Simply put, it is maintaining a certain distance from other people so that the coronavirus or any other microbe is unable to spread.

In a country like India with a 133 crore population, how possible is it to maintain the distance of six feet from any other person?

"People are concerned about missing out on work. But if we miss the chance to contain the disease now, there might be no work left,"' explains Dr. Amrita Basu, who is an ENT surgeon in Bengal.

"I work with infections every day. I'm all gloves and masks for isolated cases, but we cannot replicate that for a mass scale," she told News18 in an interview.

In India, where people's DNA is everywhere-- paan spitting, faeces owing to lack of toilets and even proper drinking water-- social distancing is the need of the hour.

"India is doing a much better job of starting to stop it at the right time," feels Basu, but adds that there is a very small window of opportunity. "It'll require 2-3 weeks of people staying away, till the ones confirmed with the disease are treated, then it doesn't have to be such a severe measure," she says.

The onus on social distancing, she feels, is also on young people - the millennials and Gen Z.

"Young adults are less likely to be high-risk patients, but they can be the carriers. If they stop travelling more, stop social gatherings, and maintain precautions, social distancing can work."

A still 'developing' country, India has a huge population who 'go out' to work, especially in the unorganized sector.

Basu's solution is figuring out a plan for them so they're not forced to go out and in turn, get infected and thus, spread the infection, further.

"No government has the money to fund them, so at smaller, community levels, a solution will have to be thought out. India has to fight this together," she says.

Dr, Anant Bhan, Researcher, Global Health, Bioethics and Health Policy believes that since the disease hasn't spread to community transfer yet, preventive measures in the form of social distancing could perhaps stop it before it reaches that stage.

"Work from home is only possible to a certain section of people," he says. "People whose jobs require them going out cannot be asked to stay at home indefinitely," he adds.

He also clarifies the difference between self-quarantine or isolation and social-distancing--terms people are muddling up. "Self-quarantine is if you either have the infection or suspect you do, while social distancing is a more preventive measure, staying away from people who might potentially have the disease."

"It's important to maintain minimum contact when you don't know who is infected and who is not," he says.

"We need to be pro-active," he says, "Events need to be cancelled, and if community spread hasn't happened yet, it could happen very very soon."

"For people who have to go out, you need to find a safety solution, either in the forms of industrial gloves, clean, disinfected surfaces to work on. Everyone can't work from home, but everyone can take the preventive measures against it," he explains.

Vijayaprasad Gopichandran who currently works at the Department of Community Medicine, ESIC- Medical College and Post Graduate Institute of Medical Science and Research, and also does research in Epidemiology, General Practice, Bioethics and Public Health wrote in a shared a public post on Twitter explaining how social-distancing is important, but hard to impose in India.

"The best that we can, provide support, inform, and help people make informed choices. We must continue to practice isolation where possible, hygiene measures where possible, social distancing where possible," he writes.

He adds that 'imposing' might cause more harm than good. "What we need is a long-term sustained focus on improving our health system and social determinants of health. The Covid-19 pandemic has instructed us more than ever before, about the need for universal health coverage," he says in the blog.

first published:March 20, 2020, 11:11 IST