- Stay away from public gatherings as much as possible: Experts
- Avoid eating out, follow precautions like wearing a mask when out: Experts
- Centre has warned that India may see rise in COVID cases during festivals
New Delhi: With COVID-19 pandemic still raging the world and as the country enters the festive season with the commencement of Navaratri, followed by Durga Puja, Dushehra, Diwali and Chhath Puja, Guru Nanak’s Prakash Utsav experts have expressed concerns over the ‘Pandemic Fatigue’ that seems to be setting in among people as they are now slipping when it comes to taking precautions for COVID-19 prevention like wearing masks, washing hands regularly and maintaining social distancing. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), pandemic fatigue is a natural and expected reaction to sustained and unresolved adversity in people’s lives. Due to this laxity, there is a concern about COVID-19 numbers spiking up. Experts say that the country will soon be facing the triple whammy of the pandemic, upcoming festivals that attract large gatherings and the onset of winters that is typically characterised with rising air pollution in the northern part of the country.
During this time of the year, Nidhi Singh, a 35-year-old resident of Gurugram (Gurgaon) would have been busy preparing for the festivities. She would be mall hopping and making multiple trips to the market to buy new clothes, jewellery, sweets and home décor items for herself and her loved ones. But this year, she has restricted herself to online shopping. She said,
I am not going to put myself and my family in danger and so I step out only to buy essentials. However, I see that people are already out in large numbers, festival shopping and having a good time ignoring social distancing and masking.
On Friday (October 16) Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan urged citizens to be extra cautious over the next two-and-a-half months as these are going to be crucial in the nation’s fight against COVID-19. He said that it was the responsibility of every citizen to not let the guard down and abide by the safety measures to curb the spread of the infection which has already overwhelmed the country’s public health infrastructure and caused much loss of lives and livelihood. Reminding the people to focus on protecting self and each other, Dr. Vardhan said,
Extraordinary circumstances must draw extraordinary response. No religion or God says that you have to celebrate in an ostentatious way, that you have to visit pandals and temples and mosques to pray.
A committee comprising scientists and academicians appointed by the Central Government has also warned that any laxity during the festive season and the upcoming winter can lead to a significant rise in the cases, as much as upto 26 lakh cases within a month.
Avoid Crowded Spaces As Much As Possible And Follow The COVID-19 Appropriate Behaviour, Say Experts
Dr. Rommel Tickoo, Associate Director, Max Super Speciality Hospital, Saket, Delhi emphasises on avoiding congregations to prove faith or religion. He said,
There can be huge spike in numbers because when we are the part of huge public gatherings- religious or otherwise, there is always a chance of it becoming a ground for spreading of infection and the people who attend these gatherings can become super-spreaders as they can spread the virus everywhere they go- work place or at home and if they have vulnerable people at home, they can have complications. Therefore, there is a need to keep the celebrations low-key this year. You can celebrate and pray at home with your loved ones but don’t be part of these huge public gatherings.
He further said that the vulnerable population, especially the ones who have chronic lung problems have already started suffering.
Stay away from public gatherings as much as you can, he said.
According to a survey done by LocalCircles, an online community-based social network platform, which covered 28,000 people from 226 districts, about 36 per cent of the respondents said that they plan to socialise this festive season. The primary reasons cited by the respondents for socialising during the upcoming festivals were ‘need for some cheer during the ongoing tough year’ and ‘social pressure’, according to Sachin Taparia, co-founder and chairman, LocalCircles. Mr. Taparia said,
As revealed by the survey findings, a large number of people of India are expected to go out and socialise in the coming days. But before the ‘melas’ and community celebrations, you need permissions from the local district administrator and through this procedure, the government can ensure that the norms are followed properly.
Talking about measures to stay safe during the festivals, Dr KK Aggarwal, President, Confederation of Medical Associations in Asia and Oceania (CMAAO) and Medtalks, Heart Care Foundation of India said,
One doesn’t have to stay indoors. Go out but follow precautions without any miss. Also, be creative in the deciding gifts for your loved ones. Why should one gift people something like dry fruits and sweets this year when there is a fear of contracting the virus. People receiving these gifts will simply put these away for a day or two or won’t even touch before sanitising. Gift masks to those who cannot afford.
Dr. Yatin Mehta, chairman, Medanta Institute of Critical Care recommends citizens to go in shops only if there is enough room for practising physical distancing. He said,
At the moment, the situation is a bit under control. Number of COVID-19 cases has declined compared to the peak witnessed last month. But I am concerned as we have entered into a festive season that has big festivals that are celebrated almost throughout the country. People have already started shopping for the festival. Now, this is a matter of serious concern. Even if you are taking precautions by wearing masks and sanitising hands, how will you practise social distancing in such crowded spaces? My advice to people is, you can go out for shopping in a mall or a store where social distancing is practised but don’t go to crowded market places and don’t eat out in crowded places.
The experts recommended that people should be encouraged to use technology and video call their friends and relatives instead of organising a party or meeting in closed spaces.
Learn From Past Mistakes And Prepare Smartly For The Upcoming Festivities: Experts
Dr. Tickoo asserted that in order to avoid a spike in cases, the state governments and district administrations must learn from the mistakes happened in the past during the previous festival celebrations like Onam in Kerala, Ganesh Chaturthi in Maharashtra and now in West Bengal where the cases have increased as the people have started festival shopping and flocking pandals with little or no regard for social distancing in the run-up to Durga Puja. He said,
We have to learn from our mistake. This is what has happened in Kerala post-Onam. These gatherings have led to huge spike in numbers. Same goes for Maharashtra. The state suffered a spike in numbers post Ganapati festival.
The Onam festivities had resulted in a huge surge in coronavirus cases rising from 4,000 a day to over 10,000 cases a day in Kerala. This led to the Kerala government invoking Section 144 and banning the assembly of more than five people across the state for the entire October. On Sunday (October 18), in his weekly address, Union Health Minister said,
The state is paying the price of its gross negligence. There were huge congregations during Onam and adequate safety measures were not taken.
Central Government Issued Guidelines For Avoiding The Surge In COVID-19 Cases During Festivals
Earlier this month, the central government had issued Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for celebrating festivals during the ongoing pandemic. The guidelines has prohibited festive event in the areas falling under containment zones and the people living in these areas have been advised to celebrate inside their homes and not move out. Some of the recommendations included in the guidelines are as follows:
- Wearing a mask and maintaining 6-feet distance is a must at all times while visiting event locations.
- Respiratory etiquettes to be strictly followed by every individual. Spitting strictly prohibited.
- Event organisers have been asked to prepare a detailed site plan keeping social distancing in mind.
- The event location must comply with preventive measures like thermal screening, 6-feet physical distancing, sanitization among others.
- Events should be planned in a way that crowds are regulated, especially on ‘auspicious’ days which tend to attract maximum population.
- Exhibitions, fairs, puja pandals, Ramlila pandals or concerts and plays that last for many days should ensure a cap on physical numbers, staggered timings and restricted entry.
- Self-monitoring of health by all and reporting any illness at the earliest to State and District Helpline.
- Necessary arrangements for personal protection gears (PPE) like face covers/masks, hand sanitizers, soap, sodium hypochlorite solution for sanitizing frequently touched surfaces shall be made available by event organizers/business owners to their staff as per requirements.
- Preferably multiple and separate entries and exits for visitors shall be ensured. Entry points should have mandatory hand hygiene and thermal screening provisions.
- Contactless payment should be promoted.
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