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Ministry of Health: Advisory on Social Distancing

According to the Ministry Health and Family Welfare, “Social distancing is a non-pharmaceutical infection prevention and control intervention implemented to avoid/decrease contact between those who are infected with a disease causing pathogen and those who are not, so as to stop or slow down the rate and extent of disease transmission in a community. This eventually leads to decrease in spread, morbidity and mortality due to the disease.”

The Ministry proposed certain interventions which shall be in force until 31st March 2020. The measures include,

  1. Closure of all educational establishments (schools, universities etc), gyms, museums, cultural and social centres, swimming pools and theatres. Students should be advised to stay at home. Online education to be promoted.
  2. Possibility of postponing exams may be explored. Ongoing exams to be conducted only after ensuring physical distance of one meter amongst students.
  3. Encourage private sector organizations/employers to allow employees to work from home wherever feasible. Certain stated have issues compulsory shut down orders even for private sector employers, this is an evolving situation.
  4. Meetings, as far as feasible, shall be done through video conferences. Minimize or reschedule meetings involving large number of people unless necessary.
  5. Restaurants to ensure hand-washing protocol and proper cleanliness of frequently touched surfaces. Ensure physical distancing (minimum 1 metre) between tables; encourage open air seating where practical with adequate distancing.
  6. Keep already planned weddings to a limited gathering, postpone all non-essential social and cultural gatherings.
  7. Local authorities to have a dialogue with organizers of sporting events and competitions involving large gatherings and they may be advised to postpone such events.
  8. Local authorities to have a dialogue with opinion leaders and religious leaders to regulate mass gatherings and should ensure no overcrowding/at least one metre distance between people.
  9. Local authorities to have meeting with traders associations and other stakeholders to regulate hours, exhibit Do’s and Don’ts and take up a communication drive in market places like sabzi mandi, anaj mandi, bus depots, railway stations, post-offices etc., where essential services are provided.
  10. Non-essential travel should be avoided. Buses, Trains and Aeroplanes to maximize social distancing in public transport besides ensuring regular and proper disinfection of surfaces.
  11. Hygiene and physical distancing has to be maintained. Shaking hands and hugging as a matter of greeting to be avoided.
  12. Special protective measures for delivery men/ women working in online ordering services.
  13. Hospitals to follow necessary protocol related with COVID-19 management as prescribed and restrict family/friends/children visiting patients in hospitals

Social distancing is the single most powerful tool available to individuals as we all fight to stem the tide, prevent community transmission and flatten the curve. This mechanism prevents lightly infected/asymptomatic patients from becoming vectors who could infect far more vulnerable populations. The governments are trying to implement social distancing through advisories, shutdowns and lock-downs, janata (voluntary) curfews, Section 144 orders, suspension of public transport facilities etc. If India can succeed where so many nations have failed, and stop COVID-19 from reaching critical mass we could avert a public health disaster.