The protest by thousands of farmers who have stayed put at various border points of Delhi for the fifth consecutive day on Monday against the Centre's new agriculture reform laws may act as superspreader' event for coronavirus infection, say experts. The national capital has already been witnessing a spike in COVID-19 cases post Diwali celebrations and amid rising pollution levels.
Samiran Panda, who heads the Epidemiology and Communicable Diseases (ECD) division of the ICMR, sought strict compliance to protective and preventive behaviour to curb the spread of the infection. "A protest is a mass gathering and thus from a public health perspective, I would suggest protective and preventive behaviours against the spread of coronavirus infection failing which a superspreading event might set in.
"It is important to note that the SARS-COV-2 is a transmission efficient virus and such gatherings are conducive for its spread," he stressed. K K Aggarwal, president of the Confederation of Medical Association of Asia and Oceania (CMAAO) and former IMA president, said the agitation should not have been allowed by the government.
"Why for every such step we need a Supreme Court direction or intervention? The government has the powers under the Diseases Epidemic Act to take control of any situation which can spread the infection. The Indian Penal Code section 270 also gives powers to the local police station to file cases if they feel any event can spread infection," he said.
Aggarwal also noted that in a pandemic, politics should never get precedence. "The farmers' agitation will end up as superspreading events which will not only be a danger to Delhi but also to the whole country," he added.
Any agitation or gathering may cause the spread of COVID-19 and thus gatherings should be avoided during this time and if it cannot be avoided at all, social distancing norms must be maintained, Sanjay Rai, professor in the Department of Community Medicine at AIIMS said. Such gatherings may hamper government efforts to control the transmission of COVID-19, he said.
Delhi Police placed concrete barriers and enhanced security at the Ghazipur border with UP as the number of protesting farmers swelled there while thousands more remained at the Delhi-Haryana border for the fifth day Monday to protest against the Centre's agricultural reform laws. Security was stepped up after farmers threatened to block more highways connecting the national capital.