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Opinion

The urgency of social distancing – editorials

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With the death of a 76-year-old man in Karnataka, India lost its first citizen to the coronavirus (Covid-19) on Thursday. The pandemic has already claimed more than 5,000 lives in recent weeks, while affecting more than 125,000 people. In India, cases are increasing rapidly, prompting a concerted interdepartmental government response that has encompassed visa cancellation for foreign nationals, restricting entry, issuing travel warnings and intensified detection, testing and isolation procedures. It has also led to huge economic costs, with falling markets, a slowdown in business, and affected trade.

There is still no vaccine to fight the virus. But what is clear is that both individual and institutional action are critical to stopping the spread of the disease. At the individual level, basic hygiene practices, particularly hand washing, are key. But what is now also accepted worldwide is the importance of social distancing, reducing contact to prevent community transmission. India has taken important initiatives in this regard, particularly the decision by the Delhi government to close schools, colleges and cinemas until March 31 and its decision not to organize sporting events, including the Indian Premier League.

But it is important to step up this effort, as India’s ill-equipped health infrastructure is unlikely to handle the growing number of cases. All companies, which can get employees to work from home, should start doing it right away. The costs, in terms of efficiency, are minimal compared to the possible spread of the virus. Cancel political rallies, conferences, seminars, book launches and all sporting events. Close educational institutions and movie theaters in all states. Minimize the scale of wedding ceremonies, or postpone it entirely. Use public transportation sparingly and only when essential. Avoid going out to shopping malls, restaurants and bars. Limit the reach of religious congregations in temples, mosques, churches, gurdwaras, and synagogues. Stop the train journey unless it is imperative. Rigorously enforce home quarantines in cases of suspected people and with whom they have had contact. These steps may seem extreme, but extreme situations require a response in this way. There is often a tendency in this country to be fatalistic about diseases. That is no longer an option. Be responsible, because lives are at stake.

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