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Column: Fight Against COVID-19 Caught Between Complacency and Panic

By Sandeep Sahu

It’s already a scary situation, the kind that people have perhaps not seen in their lifetime. No large family, social or religious gatherings, no seminars or workshops, no schools or colleges, no cinema or theatre, no visits to tourist places, no entertainment or merry-making …. the list goes on. [Strangely, the ban does not cover the biggest gathering of human beings in the state: the Lord Jagannath Temple in Puri.] While marriages, receptions, thread ceremonies and the like have not been banned as yet, the number of restrictions imposed on them make them well-nigh unworkable. Given the paucity of staff, the restrictions are hard to enforce for the authorities and easy to flout for those who are part of such gatherings.

This writer got a taste of how easy it is to dodge the curbs when he attended an 11th day ceremony on Sunday evening and found it to be no different from what such occasions normally are. The dining hall was a choc-a-bloc with people brushing against each other in the rush to fill their plates – and stomachs – mandatory 6 feet distance between two people be damned! No one was wearing a mask and people were mixing and shaking hands with each other with the same warmth and bonhomie they have always done on such occasions. Just about the only visible difference was the presence of a few more cans of liquid shops and soaps at the washbasin than is normal. Overall, it was business as usual in every sense of the term. It seemed as if the people had not heard of a deadly virus called COVID-19 at all! If this is the state of enforcement in the state capital, one shudders to think about how easy it must be in the districts, panchayats and villages.

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The Jagannath Temple administration announced a slew of restrictions for both devotees as well as servitors on Sunday. But given the supreme confidence and unwavering trust of the average Odia in the ability of the Lord of the Universe to guard them against all evil, it is doubtful if all of them can be really enforced. Getting the servitors to wear masks is the easier part. But is it realistic to expect the thousands of devotees to maintain a distance of two meters between themselves while entering the temple in a queue? Your guess is as good as mine.

If complacency marks one end of the spectrum, panic presents the other. The fleeing of a patient from the MKCG Hospital in Berhampur on Sunday highlighted the perils of panic. The patient, who had been admitted to the isolation ward at the hospital with flu like symptoms on Saturday, fled on Sunday afternoon before his test reports had come. Mercifully, his reports, which arrived after he fled on Sunday, were negative. But just imagine the havoc he could have caused if he had tested positive. This being the case, is it realistic to expect the thousands of devotees visiting the Jagannath temple to declare, honestly and truthfully, any foreign returnees or anyone with flu like symptoms in the family, before entering the temple?

The market too is taking a hit because of the panic created by rumour mongers. Already, authorities have started cracking down on unscrupulous traders hoarding masks, sanitizers and other recommended items, which have already seen a steep spurt in demand and consequently, a sharp fall in supply, leading to a manifold rise in their prices. At the other extreme, eggs, chickens and other non-veg items are selling at throwaway prices due to rumours about their risk potential.

In fact, rumours, most of them spread on WhatsApp, are the biggest impediment to awareness, the only way to check its spread. A few days ago, a cock and bull story about Lord Lingaraj telling the chief priest of the temple in sleep about the wonderful preventive abilities of basil leaves did the rounds on the social media. Unable to separate the wheat from the chaff, many gullible devotees took the ‘swapnadesha’ seriously and started consuming seven basil leaves together as a ‘preventive’ against the nCorona virus as supposedly ordained by the Lord Himself! Considering the damage potential of rumours, it may not be a bad idea to stay away from social media for a while or, at the very least, not to believe in all that is said in it about ways to fight the virus. We should trust only advisories issued by the government and follow the guidelines issued by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

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The fight against the nCorona virus, as we have seen, is handicapped by complacency on the one hand and panic on the other. And we have to stay clear of both to be able to fight the menace that has taken the world by storm. We should not forget that India is only at the second stage of the spread of the killer virus and still some distance away from the dangerous third phase, which would inevitably witness a rapid spread of the virus. So, it is imperative that we tread extremely cautiously.

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are the author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same)

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