New awareness campaign in India to fight pandemic fatigue

Health officials taking a swab sample from a woman in Kolkata, on Oct 13, 2020.
Health officials taking a swab sample from a woman in Kolkata, on Oct 13, 2020. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

India has rolled out a new campaign to remind people not to let their guard down, as experts warn that fatigue over the pandemic, coupled with the coming festive season and winter, could result in a spike in cases of Covid-19.

The Jan Andolan (People Movement) drive for Covid-19 appropriate behaviour includes putting up posters asking people to wear masks and follow other safety steps in places like railway stations and markets, printing safety instructions on utility bills and getting celebrities to tweet safe practices.

In a reminder to his 41.6 million Twitter fans, Bollywood actor Salman Khan tweeted "... only do three things", urging them to keep a six-feet (1.8m) safe distance, wear a mask and sanitise their hands.

Launched last week, the campaign comes as India counts down to the festive season - including Dussehra on Oct 25 and Deepavali celebrations from Nov 13 to 15 - and record falling temperatures in the north, both of which threaten the current downward trend in coronavirus cases.

With almost 7.2 million cases of Covid-19, India has the second-highest number of infections after the United States which has more than 8 million cases.

India had one of the most stringent lockdowns in the world, shutting down all economic activity when there were a few hundred cases in March. But as restrictions loosened, the number of cases rose till they hit nearly a million new cases a day in mid-September.

Over the past two weeks, however, there has been a downward trend, with 55,342 new cases recorded on Monday.

Still, the authorities are gearing up for the festival season when large gatherings are the norm.

The National Centre for Disease Control has warned that the capital New Delhi, for instance, needs to be prepared for 15,000 new cases of Covid-19 every day due to respiratory problems triggered by winter pollution and festive gatherings. The daily rise in cases in the capital now is fewer than 2,000, with 1,849 fresh cases on Monday.

A poll of 18 cities by non-profit group EkDesh and research firm Crownit in September found that only 44 per cent of Indians were wearing a mask even though awareness levels about masks were at a high of 90 per cent. Fifty per cent did not wear masks because they had breathing trouble.

Health experts said the campaign would need to be tailor-made for different areas, from urban to rural.

"The campaign faces the triple challenge of festivals, fatigue and fatalism," said Professor Rajib Dasgupta of the centre for social medicine and community health at Jawaharlal Nehru University.

But without a more targeted approach catering to different groups, he said, the campaign "will have limited powers in translating into a jan andolan".

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 14, 2020, with the headline New awareness campaign in India to fight pandemic fatigue. Subscribe