Social Distancing the only solution to reducing the Coronavirus impact globally but how effective will it be with the ground reality changing every minute. India is finding it challenging to contain the coronavirus spread. Though India has managed to delay the onset of phase-2 of the pandemic, the weak health infrastructure and a huge population of 1.3 billion is giving a hard time for the Indian government.
In a fight, where developed nations with advanced health infrastructure like the USA have failed to limit the effects, India will need to fight hard. Additionally, with no vaccine available, social distancing is the only way to win the battle. As a result, the government of India decided to mitigate the COVID spread through social distancing by announcing a complete lockdown till 14 April 2020. But how effective will be social distancing be to tackle the coronavirus outbreak?
Social distancing (physical distancing) aims to reduce the transmission of the virus and contain the number of new cases. This community-level social distancing is practiced by the closure of schools, higher educational institutions, workplaces, entertainment places, restaurants, and other public places.
Observational and modeling evidence from past experiences indicates that early measures and comprehensive implementation might prove fruitful in containing the spread. Further, several studies have used mathematical models to study the number of infectives with lockdowns of various durations.
The first study reveals that a 21-day lockdown will although change the rate of infections but will not bring down the number of cases to the level required to prevent resurgence after the suspension of the lockdown. Also, an extension of lockdown to further 28 days after a suspension of 5 days is likely to have similar effects and thus prove insufficient to contain the spread. However, if the social distancing measures are implemented for a further period of 49 days with five days relaxations in between three interval lockdowns, the number of cases could be bought down to 10.
Structure of Social Contacts and Age
The above results have been derived from a model based on social contact structure and age since both these play a crucial role in social distancing. While the elderly are at a greater risk to develop this virus, it is essential to consider the success rate of social distancing measures by not only counting the total cases but also the distribution of total cases across the age groups.
The study concludes that the current duration of lockdown may prove ineffective. Besides, it suggests a sustained lockdown with suitable periodic relaxations to contain the morbidity and mortality rates.
Researches on the China Covid19 impacts also indicates that if it had followed an early lockdown (a week before), the number of infected could have been around 66% less along with limited affected areas. However, there is no ‘one size that fits all’ method in determining the implementation of quarantine, cancellations and social distancing. The Wuhan originated coronavirus has so far infected 1429 people in India, out of which 40 have died and 145 have recovered.
Considerations for Effective Social Distancing
The government must ensure the effective flow of communication through social media and other digital sources and justify the date of lockdown along with making people aware of the extension. Consequently, people will remain calm and will support the measures taken by the government. Also, the government should encourage people to practice good hygiene on a personal level to reduce community-level transmission.
Counter the Stigma
Evidence from previous pandemics reveals that people in self-isolation, even if not infected, are subject to the potential stigma which can affect their capacity to adhere to the measures. Therefore, the authorities must promote solidarity among people so that they can together pass through the pandemic.
Support for Vulnerable Groups
The authorities must prepare a support system for the vulnerable section of the community to facilitate the uninterrupted supply of essentials including food, medications, and access to health care. Consequently, the effort would ensure stricter adherence to social distancing measures.
Financial Compensation for the Lost Employment
The Indian government has already rolled out a relief package for the vulnerable group to limit the financial burden due to the lockdown. Also, extending the deadlines for various payments, the government has put people in a comfortable place so that they can easily adhere to the nationwide lockdown.
In conclusion, apart from a few infringements, the nationwide lockdown has completed a week. Accordingly, the above predictions are the best case scenarios based on the prevailing situation. However, the expectations are subject to change according to the way India tackles the coronavirus spread.