From the point of view of public health, the UT administration’s decision to relax curfew norms in the city could prove to be a potential disaster, says Dr Sonu Goel of PGIMER’s Department of Community Medicine and School of Public Health, on the Chandigarh Administration’s order to allow one person from each household to visit shops or markets near their house between 10 am to 6 pm. Chandigarh Newsline spoke to the doctor, who specialises in Public Health Administration, on why social distancing is the need of the hour.
What is the most important step to be taken to curtail the coronavirus spread?
The need for hand washing and respiratory hygiene has already been discussed at length, but one of the most crucial moves to enforce at this point is social distancing. We have not stressed on this enough in the past, but in this epidemic, it has proved to be the most effective way to reign in the spread of the virus.
Why is social distancing crucial to put into practice?
This is a completely new virus and its rapid spread is unprecedented. We don’t know how fast it can infect people and whom. All we know is that it has the potential to spread rapidly through social interaction. When someone is infected with the virus, either they have a few symptoms which they deal with easily, or it aggravates and they die, or most dangerously, they are asymptomatic and are carriers of the disease. There could be many people who may be asymptomatic and carriers of the disease and they can expose so many others to it if social distancing is not practiced. If everyone strictly stays at home for a few weeks, we reduce the possibility of exposing ourselves to an infected individual.
In Wuhan city of China, for example, there was no social distancing, but in other parts of China they quickly implemented strict social distancing norms, which allowed them to successfully curtail the spread of the infection in the country. In Italy and Spain, furthermore, no strict norms or lockdown was imposed until much later, and the epidemic spread at a fatally rapid rate. If India continues with a stringent lockdown, we can still save ourselves from going down the same path as Italy or Spain.
Is community transmission occurring in India?
Though there are no official reports of community transmission as of yet, this could be a false sense of complacency attributed to lower rate of testing. In India, we do not have the resources to test everybody, and our testing capacity is still quite limited, so it is a possibility that there are many carriers in the community that are yet to be identified. The virus could very well be in the community and we wouldn’t even know about it. We cannot just rely on benefit of doubt and potentially expose so many to the virus by walking around in public.
Should a strict curfew be imposed?
Yes, a complete lockdown with no relaxations needs to continue for three weeks at least, otherwise we will have to suffer this for months, and the rate of infection will only rise. Ensure that basic rations are home delivered to residents and just don’t let anyone step out. Now that we have relaxed norms in Chandigarh, we will observe a withdrawal syndrome, where almost everyone would suddenly flock to the streets. Even those who did not normally like to go outside will go because restrictions have been lifted and then there will be no way to control the situation. Acomplete lockdown is the only way to deal with the pandemic.
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