Understanding Social Distance, Written by our Regional Coordinator in India, Dr Madhulika Sahoo

Understanding Social Distance

By: Dr Madhulika Sahoo

India’s outbreak of the novel Coronavirus has affected more than 100s of people from 17 different states. As of the 17th of April 2020, about 452 deaths and 13,835 infected cases have been reported (Worldometers, 2020). I was not surprised to see the rise of India’s affected population, due to the lack of preparation and self-awareness among people. On the 16th of March 2020, the Government of India announced social distancing and avoiding large gatherings to avoid the spread of the virus. The shopping malls, universities, schools, religious places, and entertainment places were closed and became isolated. Many of us stored the essential items for a few days.

Locking myself indoors, I started to feel bizarre. No human voice and no human presence was something that I have never experienced before. It was more of spending time with my laptop and mobile than with any other human beings.

I started wondering about those patients who required social contact to keep themselves free from stress. Studies on social isolation have found an increased risk of heart disease, depression, dementia, and even suicidal death (Miller, 2011). A meta-analysis of the scientific literature by Holt-Lunstad et al. (2010) found that chronic social isolation can lead to an increased risk of mortality by 29%. Furthermore, it was evident that having a friend present can reduce a person’s cardiovascular response to a stressful task. There is even a correlation between perceived social connectedness and stress responses. Coronavirus has a high risk of affecting elderly people who required attention and social contact to remain stress-free. Social isolation may be an excellent process to curb the spread of the coronavirus, but at the same time it may lead to further health risks to those who already have underlying health conditions. According to Lipsitch and Allen (cited in Bokat-Lidell, 2020) “physical distancing” should be used instead of the phrase “social distancing,” because the goal is to separate physically, not emotionally.

On the 19th of March, the Prime Minister of India, Mr Narendra Modi announced ‘Janata (public) Curfew’ in order to contain the spread of the coronavirus. On the 22nd of March from 7 am till 9 pm all of the Indians maintained the Junta Curfew. On the 24th of March, Mr Narendra Modi announced a national lockdown for 21-days. The national lockdown has affected all households and communities, and most importantly the poor and vulnerable in the informal sectors.

Social distancing, virus testing and hand washing (among other public health interventions) will certainly reduce the infection rate. However, the national and state governments need to step up to implement these interventions in urban slums and rural villages.

References

Bokat-Lindell, S. (2020) ‘How to socially distance and stay safe: A guide from public-health experts and journalists’, The New York Times, 17 March. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/17/opinion/coronavirus-social-distancing.html

Holt-Lunstad, J, Smith, T. and Layton, B. (2010) ‘Social relationships and mortality risk: A meta-analytics review’, PLoS Med. 7(7). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2910600/

Miller, G. (2011) ‘Why loneliness is hazardous to your health’, Science 331(6014), pp. 138-140. https://science.sciencemag.org/content/331/6014/138.summary

Worldometers (2020) Reported Cases and Deaths by Country, Territory, or Conveyance. https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/#countries

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