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The fear that surrounds social distancing in COVID-19 crisis

Then And Now

Isn’t it ironical that the Dalits were referred to as ‘Acchyut’s or untouchables for decades in the Indian social order and today it is social distancing that is the norm during the COVID-19 pandemic? Maybe it has little to do with the social order now, but things have changed in the way we look at people around us. It is not about being rich or poor, or belonging from the low socio economic class or being rich, but it is primarily about maintaining social distance to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus.   

Social distancing is everywhere. It is like history repeats itself, but the unfortunate part is, in many parts of the state, those who were suffering and have recovered from the coronavirus are looked down upon and it will take time before people realize that, it is just another disease they have recovered from. However, public memory is short and these dreadful times where people were looked down upon will be forgotten. 

The Dalits who are considered as untouchables. Picture Courtesy : www.girlsglobe.org

It is now a sad reality due to a fear, that people will now socially distance themselves not just from the so called Dalit community due to any social order, but because social distancing is the new norm. Today keeping a distance from family members, friends and crowded places is the practice that will be in place even after the lockdown is lifted.

The advent of the deadly virus has changed the entire structure of society with even the economy of the country suffering. Lives have been disrupted and people cannot go back to normal days after the COVID-19 pandemic. Giving a friendly hug to friends, dining out with families or being part of any social gathering is a far dream. In fact masks and sanitizers will soon be an indispensable part of people’s lives in addition to social distancing or physical distancing, which will be the new norm in society not just in India, but globally too.

Social Distancing is the new norm.
Picture Courtesy : www.freepik.com

There was a time, when society would outcast all the Dalits from their places and meetings and now the tables have been turned where social gatherings are a far cry for almost everyone. Reality is stranger than fiction and though what started decades ago as a norm to socially distance other classes from Dalits, today a massive change has brought back social distancing in a different way. This is an unfortunate situation for the entire world where everyone will have to adapt to social distancing norms. Will our lives post the lockdown be really all that normal?

What Experts Say

Researchers and healthcare professionals believe that social distancing will be the new normal in people’s lives, at least for several months to come. The lockdown will soon be over and the coronavirus will even radically change the way we shop, the way we travel and the way we work. Every aspect of people’s lives will witness a sea change and people have to adapt to this new way of life, just like earlier generations after Indian independence and after the Bangladesh war.

Dr Arunima Sengupta Lahiri , Child Psychologist, AIIMS Rishikesh says that there is something called OCD or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder which forces people to constantly wash their hands as they have an inherent fear of contracting diseases. However the situation people are facing right now is the fear and anxiety of the disease which is why the term social distancing has come into the picture.

“What is important right now is, we should be aware of correct information and gather accurate facts. Only then we can significantly reduce fear within ourselves. The secret to staying peaceful is, the more accurate information we have, the less we will imagine and it will lead to less absurdity. If people start to fear and be anxious, it will give rise to a psychological pandemic which will be worse.” Says Dr Arunima Sengupta Lahiri.

Accurate and correct information is important.
Picture Courtesy : dreamstime. com

“I personally feel we should come up with more civil platforms which will have authentic and correct information in them from relevant sources. This will reduce fear and anxiety. Also, people should stay away from rumors and misinformation which can cripple and disturb minds. There is something called the fear of the unknown. This can be reduced only when we are aware of the real scenario and we have access to the truth. Only then we can reduce the fear in the society and from people’s minds.” Adds Dr Lahiri.

Humanity is at a stage where uncertainty has gripped the mind and even as certain shops and factories are reopening, it is impossible to flatten the curve as the COVID-19 situation now has also led to an economic downturn. People are losing their jobs globally and the poor are wondering what is in store for them.

The worrying part is, even as COVID-19 cases rise along with the number of deaths,the country will one day open up and people will have to isolate themselves as much as they can. The good news is, there are more recoveries being reported across the country, but is that enough to imagine a normal India?

Picture Courtesy : MGN Image

Researchers define social distancing as all households reducing contact with people outside the household, including at schools or the workplace. In fact work from home is the new norm as the workforce in most offices will be reduced by 75%. For instance, now the government has allowed about 33% of the workforce in most offices. Factories in some areas across the country are reopening with social distancing norms being part of the protocol. 

https://www.technologyreview.com/2020/03/17/905264/coronavirus-pandemic-social-distancing-18-months/

Post COVID Lockdown situation

The Central government is following guidelines by the World Health Organization(WHO) where everyone has to physically isolate themselves from crowds and unnecessary venturing outside homes is not advisable, at least till cases drop significantly. These guidelines by the government will help to reduce the rate and spread of infections to some extent, but will have an adverse effect on the minds of the people.

Many people are now scared to mingle with people or even go out in crowded places like markets to buy their daily essentials. Families choose not to go out together and think of going out only for a specific purpose. Earlier, it used to be a blissful feeling to finally visit your near ones and dear ones,but now stepping out for a breath of fresh air and being too close to relatives and friends seems to be a scary thought, for fear of contracting the virus. The problem that arises now is that, will there be a paradigm shift in the minds of everyone?

Children will now face a bigger problems as they cannot go out and play with their friends together, as parents have been advised against social gatherings. “We always taught our children to play with everyone because it was considered to be normal. But the concept of physical distancing will gradually modify the ways of playing. Soon there will be new rules of playing where children too will have to maintain distance amongst each other. At the same time we must instill in their minds, that it is just physical distancing and not about emotional distancing.” Says Ms Tulika Singhania , who is a Clinical Psychologist .

The clinical psychologist also adds that people will learn to adapt to the new norms, being an adaptive society. “The COVID crisis is a very unprecedented and unplanned situation for all of us. Nobody was prepared for it. But we human beings live in a dynamic society and it is my belief that we will gradually adapt to this change as well. It is definitely a very challenging situation for all of us but this is not everlasting and I feel that we will emerge out of it successfully as well”. Explains Ms Singhania.

Picture Courtesy : dreamstime. Com

The anxiety is growing now and has a higher chance of increasing during the post COVID lockdown. “One major issue which people are facing right now is with their mental health. A lot of people are suffering from health anxiety because since this was an uncalled for situation, therefore people are fearful of their present situation and are suffering from anxiety. This is quite a normal reaction to an abnormal situation like this.”

Many people are having panic attacks, depression, anxiety issues and other mental issues. Added to this, is the fear of death. The only solution which Ms Singhania has for people suffering from health and mental issues are that firstly, they should be informed of the real scenario, know the real facts and statistics and not follow fake stories. It is best to stay away from misinformation and myths which is half the battle won as too much information is not advisable. Trying to stay informed and yet staying positive can keep fear out of people’s minds. Secondly, since there is no cure to the coronavirus as of now, it is better not to panic and take proper precautions to stay safe and keep everyone around safe as well.

Health anxiety occurs among many people during such times of crisis.
Picture Courtesy : medicalnewstoday. Com

Optimism Amidst Darkness

The virus will linger on for a long time and it is not going to disappear anytime soon or later.At least not till a cure and vaccine are discovered. According to facts and research, fear and panic is not the solution as the way forward. The COVID-19 crisis will definitely bring about a massive change in the way society functions but that should not cripple the minds of people.

Picture Courtesy : www.weforum.org

It is normal for people to be scared and to fear the unknown. But it is important to know the actual facts and take proper precautions. The positive side to this is, the situation will not last forever and the condition will improve sooner of later. Yes livelihoods of people will undergo a sea change globally. However, the main focus is to be informed and stay positive amidst everything. Only then people will globally unite to emerge out of this situation as winners.

About the author

Sreeparna Bhattacharya

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