Monday, 30 March, 2020
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OPINION

Social Distancing Slows Down Virus Spread



Hira Bahadur Thapa

 

With the speedy contraction of coronavirus affecting large sections of world populations doctors have argued that social distancing is one of the most effective tools to stem the disease. This strategy of making people maintains less physical contacts with each other has been found very beneficial in controlling the transmission of virus. China is the first country to become the epicentre of novel virus. Its harsh decision to enforce lockdown the whole province of Hubei even when the death tolls were in two digits with few hundred confirmed cases has underscored the success lying behind social distancing.

Travel restrictions
In the third week of January when lockdown went into effect in China many could not visualise the merits of the measure in terms of saving millions of lives. There were allegations of human rights violations pointing to travel restrictions. Surprisingly, the World Health Organisation spoke against this restrictive measure when it had yet to declare coronavirus as pandemic.
But with persistent efforts mobilising the populations outside Hubei of China handled the crisis with enviable success by tracking the infected cases on a mass scale, isolating them and providing them treatment. Its construction of two 10,000-bed capacity hospitals in Wuhan within a period of two weeks signals to outside world that with unshakeable dedication and hard work anything can be accomplished.
China’s lessons are being learnt by countries around the world. When other Asian countries like South Korea, Japan, Taiwan and Singapore became the victims of virus, they quickly went into action taking a cue from the experience of China where until some weeks earlier the death tolls from COVID-19 were the highest in the world. Happily, in Asia the virus has not affected as hard as in Europe and America. Italy has now surpassed all other nations both in confirmed cases and deaths.
The experts on infectious diseases have now contended that the rate of success in slowing down the spread of virus is very much determined by how quickly and sincerely we practice social distancing. All those countries displaying lower cases of contraction and resultantly declining rates of mortality have been able to implement this social behavior with greater enforcement.
Had China not been able to isolate the disease to one province, it would not have the advantage of mobilising all necessary resources from elsewhere in the country. Its greatest leverage was that virus was not allowed to spread rapidly outside Hubei. The lockdown which is the enforced social distancing did a wonderful job in preventing possible transmission of virus. No doubt there were cases in other provinces and cities but the numbers could not accelerate because the infected people from Hubei were not in contact with the outsiders. None was allowed to enter the province from outside until lockdown was relaxed.
As the disease knows no boundaries and reaches far and wide, various countries have tried to fight with it learning lessons from each other. It is believed that in containing the virus testing of people whether they have symptoms or not is very essential because once the infected cases are identified it becomes easy to isolate them. Isolation prevents them from contracting others. It is the first step to treat the victims.
Testing on a massive scale once virus was found in South Korea has helped the country to drastically cut down the chances of transmission. Infected people were isolated and kept in quarantine as soon as the test proved that they had been affected by virus. Similar strategies were employed in many other countries which led them to achieve notable success in slowing the spread of the disease and consequently limiting the number of confirmed cases and deaths. Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Germany are among them where the contagion has been reduced.
Fortunately, Nepal has not had more than three confirmed cases of COVID-19, one of whom has already recovered, a data authenticated by the WHO. But this does not necessarily mean that the country is free from the risks. To quote the chief of the WHO, Nepal is one of the most high-risk countries in terms of coronavirus outbreak. The reasons are understandable. Nepal has long borders with China in the north, a country with the second highest number of virus-related casualties.
She also borders with India on three sides, a country of 1.3 billion people where the contagion is slowly picking up. Our geography makes us more vulnerable as contraction becomes easier with people’s unrestricted movement. Of late, the Indian government has imposed three week-long lockdown considering growing threat from virus.
Sensing severity of the virus in South Asia, the Prime Minister of India took the initiative of holding a video conference of SAARC leaders in the recent past focusing on identifying the practical and coordinated approach to deal with the outbreak of virus through regional cooperation. India pledged 10 million dollars and Nepal has promised to contribute one million rupees to the emergency fund set up in this regard.
Pandemic is a global challenge and requires global collaboration. Many friendly countries are exhibiting their readiness to help Nepal should she request them for medical expertise, equipment, etc. The government of Nepal has taken some drastic but necessary measures including lockdown to prevent the contraction of virus besides doing logistical preparations like isolation camps in various parts of the country. Government sources inform that Nepal has already requested our neighbours to supply us testing kits, medical equipment, among others, and hopefully it would be available soon.

Responsibility
During such crisis the citizens have greater responsibilities. They should be abiding by the regulations of the government and be prepared to sacrifice some personal comforts when lockdown is in effect. So far government instructions are fully obeyed. Social distancing and personal hygiene are crucial to fight the virus. Social distancing is not social isolation. By staying connected to our relatives and friends through technology we can practice social distancing. Thus, we can save ourselves and others. Connectedness lessens the long-term impact of social isolation.

(Foreign Relations Advisor to the Prime Minister from 2008 to 2009, Thapa writes on contemporary issues and can be reached at thapahira17@gmail.com) 

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