After erupting in China in December 2019, coronavirus made inroads in India in January 2020 in Kerala and more than a month later, 43 confirmed cases of coronavirus have been seen with lakhs of Indians under scrutiny. As the coronavirus outbreak grips the Indian economy, the country has started to focus on prevention as a cure remains far from the reach.
But when it comes to preventive care in India, the healthcare systems are messy and the recommendations by ministers are far more bizarre than China taking its citizens into forced quarantine.
A legislator of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) suggested in the Assam state assembly that cow urine is an effective disinfectant and it could be used to cure Covid-19. Soon, UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath suggested that coronavirus can be avoided if a person overcomes mental stress. Neither is an authentic course of action according to the WHO recommendations to avoid infection.
On the central government level, PM Narendra Modi-led government issued an advisory suggesting homoeopathy to prevent the disease. The same advisory also recommended a number of Unani medicines.
Other steps are also being taken by different agencies within the government. While the charge of this health epidemic falls on the ministry of health, multiple stakeholders across the government are taking up the charge to create awareness.
The difficult task for the Indian government is to create awareness in the middle of WhatsApp forwards and fake news spread on social media. From household recipes to cure coronavirus to fake news about the number of people infected, social media is full of such ‘advice’ which has no scientific or medical basis. Hence, beyond managing the spread of the epidemic, the government also has to ensure the spread of misinformation.
Dr Harsh Vardhan, minister of health, has reportedly told that people should not pay heed to fake reports, and should follow the simple precautions – washing hands with soap, maintaining hygiene, and reporting for tests if symptoms show up.
Hence, the government has opted for leveraging several mediums coupled with social media reach. For instance, since Sunday (March 8), telecom operators have started to warn users of Covid-19 spread owing to health ministry’s order.
Subscribers of Reliance Jio, Airtel and BSNL were greeted with a warning in Hindi and English when they attempted to make a phone call on Sunday.
The pre-recorded caller tune plays instead of the regular phone ring and says, “Always protect your face with a handkerchief or tissue while coughing or sneezing. Regularly clean hands with soap. Avoid touching your face, eyes, or nose. If someone has a cough, fever or breathlessness maintain one-metre distance. If needed, visit your nearest health centre immediately.”
The companies are further working to increase the reach of the awareness to people through this alert.
On the other hand, the ministry of health has also issued several advisories asking people to maintain personal hygiene and wash hands regularly. The ministry has appealed to the people to observe the basic coughing etiquettes, hand-washing and avoiding large gatherings.
The messages have been reaching far and wide with sanitizers and masks getting out of stock or being sold at inflated prices over the last few weeks. Further, the government has tightened the airport checks after putting restrictions on tourists from over 4 countries. A total of 8,74,708 international passengers from 8,255 flights have been screened at airports till now with 1,921 passengers identified as symptomatic.
PM Modi also said that people should not believe in hearsay and rumours on what to do and what not to do with coronavirus. “People should avoid handshakes and start greeting others with ‘namaste’ once again,” the PM added.
Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal today stressed on coordinated action between all concerned departments, agencies for activities such as contact tracing and community surveillance; hospital management; identification of isolation wards; adequate PPE, masks; and risk communication for mass awareness.
On the business’ side, several startups and tech giants have directed employees to work from home in an attempt to prevent the spread of coronavirus. At the same time, there are customer-facing businesses like Swiggy, Zomato, Ola, Uber etc which haven’t informed their drivers/delivery executives about the coronavirus and the measures they need to take to prevent the spread.