As the country prepares for a 14-hour “Janata Curfew” called by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, experts have questioned the claim that the day-long effort to stay at home will break the chain of transmission of the novel coronavirus.
Many will cut exposure to the virus by staying home on Sunday and experts maintain that it will be a good drill to prepare for the situation and reinforce the message of social distancing, but to call it breaking the chain is “oversimplification”. The PM himself had not made any such claim in his speech.
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According to Dr Shobha Broor, former head of microbiology at AIIMS, to say that the virus will die out if there is no contact between people for a day is an oversimplification. “It will perhaps reduce the transmission because people will not come in contact with each other but it will not totally break the chain. You may have seen the NEJM article on how long the virus stays alive in surfaces; evidence does not say the virus will die out in 20-22 hours. The ministry seems to have oversimplified the matter. The Janata Curfew I would say is more a way of reinforcing the social distancing logic,” she said.
During the daily coronavirus briefing on Friday, Joint Secretary (Health) Lav Agarwal had said that public cooperation on the PM’s call will break the chain of transmission of the virus. “The second point of PM Modi’s address was how to stop transmission of the disease in the country. He said social distancing is one way to stop transmission… he said Janata Curfew by the people for the people through which we can promote social distancing as a practice… this one-day effort, this one-day practice… will help us in a big way in breaking the chain of transmission,” Agarwal had said.
Many other government functionaries, including those holding Constitutional posts, have since repeated the claim. In an appeal on Saturday, Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu said, “It is being widely advocated by the experts and WHO to maintain social distancing to effectively contain the spread of virus. The clarion call given by the Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi for observing voluntary ‘Janata Curfew’ tomorrow is aimed at meeting this objective. Staying at homes for the suggested period that goes beyond the incubation period prevents the spread of this dreaded virus by breaking the contamination circle.”
Dr Soumya Swaminathan, chief scientist at the World Health Organisation, said, “It’s (Janata Curfew) a preparatory exercise. To break the chain of transmission, you need weeks, if not months, of interventions. Not just one, but multiple non-pharmaceutical interventions. Detect, test, isolate, quarantine, avoid mass gatherings, protect health care workers and elderly, plus physical distancing. Those with fever and cough should self-isolate. Avoid going to hospitals unless essential.”
There is scientific evidence to suggest that the 14-hour period — even if it effectively extends to 24 hours — will do nothing for the longevity of the virus on any surface given that it can stay alive for much longer. According to an article published in the New England Journal of Medicine on March 17, “SARS-CoV-2 was more stable on plastic and stainless steel than on copper and cardboard, and viable virus was detected up to 72 hours after application to these surfaces”.
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The novel coronavirus has been named SARS-CoV-2 by scientists.
In a terse reply to an e-mail query by The Sunday Express on whether the 14-hour period will break the chain of transmission, Dr T Jacob John, former head of the Indian Council for Medical Research’s Centre for Advanced Research in Virology, said, “No. Wishful thinking. Hope they have a plan to prove.”
Here’s a quick coronavirus guide for you to stay updated: Who all should be tested for Covid-19 and when? | How should you quarantine yourself? | How often (and how) should you clean your home? | What is the Janata Curfew announced by PM Modi? | Who are restricted from coming to India, and from when? | How long can the virus live on surfaces or in air around you? | Still more Coronavirus Q&A Explained news here
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