It is perhaps the only ‘social distancing shed’ in the country— and for two days now, it’s been keeping folks in a small Arunachal Pradesh town at a safe distance from each other: exactly one-and-a-half metres apart.
Since Monday, outside the State Bank of India branch in Aalo, the headquarters of Arunachal Pradesh’s West Siang District, stands what the administration is calling a ‘social distancing shed’, complete with bamboo poles, colourful umbrellas and separate slots for men and women.
“We are serious about social distancing — and this is the message we wanted to send to the public,” says Dr Jumge Padu, the creator of the shed, over the phone from Aalo.
Last week, when the country stepped into the third phase of the lockdown, Dr Padu, who is posted as medical officer at the Yomcha Primary Health Centre, noticed people jostling for space outside the bank.
“Since Aalo is the district headquarters, the SBI branch caters to not just the town, but the surrounding Yomcha circle as well,” says Dr Padu, “That is why there has been a rush ever since the area was declared a green zone.” Currently, all of Arunachal Pradesh, which reported one COVID-19 case (now recovered), is under the green zone.
The doctor then asked the district administration if he could implement into practice a social distancing initiative he had in mind. “I had seen that in South India, someone was distributing umbrellas as a means to implement social distancing,” says Dr Padu, “That wouldn’t have been practical here, and umbrellas can always exchange hands, which defeats the purpose of social distancing. So I came up with the umbrella shed idea — to be made with locally-sourced bamboo and cane.”
Dr Padu then went around all the markets in Aalo, and bought all the 56 umbrellas he could find in the few shops that had opened.
The team then stuck a few bamboo poles, propped up umbrellas in its sockets and made five rows. Below each umbrella was a ring, with a one-metre diameter, fashioned out of cane in a bid to demarcate spots.
“It rains here often, and chalk circles easily get rubbed off,” says Dr Padu.
It’s been only two days, but any local visiting the bank in Aalo is now compelled to follow social distancing norms. Volunteers from Kibom Old Age Welfare Society have taken over the responsibly to dismantle the shed every evening, and put it up again the next day.
Last month, Dr Padu, along with the Arunachal Pradesh Doctors’ Association, was instrumental in bringing about a successful ‘Masks for West Siang’ campaign ensuring that every household in villages across the district got masks.
The 35-year-old, who is also working as the COVID-19 awareness in-charge in Aalo says, “Lockdown is not the solution and we have to learn how to live with the virus.”