BENGALURU: Karnataka is fourth in the list of top 10 states making the biggest contribution to Covid-19 cases in the country. Its efforts to fight the pandemic hinge on how people behave towards the virus, rather than the biological characteristics of the microorganism, epidemiologists believe. “What is more important is the group behaviour now. Preventing ourselves from getting infected is the best chance we have. Individual and community responsibility is crucial,” said Dr Giridhara R Babu, senior epidemiologist and a member of the advisory committee to state government on Covid.
Community medicine experts and immunologists, who have handled healthcare systems when they were run over by conflicts, disasters and emergencies, say that every individual’s behaviour and his self-motivated effort matters during these times. “Covid has shown that it has the ability to overwhelm healthcare systems around the world. In Karnataka too, we have been overburdened. In such situations, what matters is how people behave in response to the real and perceived risks. Historically, it has been proven that behavioural factors play a large part in slowing and stopping the spread of a disease,” said a senior community health expert.
Dr Suneela Garg, Director and Professor, Department of Community Medicine, Maulana Azad Medical College, said during a webinar organised by the Association of Healthcare Providers (India) on Friday that there has been a shift in Covid epicentres over the last one month. Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka have emerged as fresh hotspots, while Delhi is faring much better. “If community transmission begins, isolation and quarantine will have a limited or no role to play, while community-driven social changes, such as wearing masks, washing hands regularly and maintaining social distancing, become more important. Community transmission in a country like India may prove to be catastrophic,” she explained.
“There is a tendency to meet in groups, celebrate and hold functions in large numbers. These should definitely be avoided,” said Dr Babu. The Outbreak Communications Planning Guide of the World Health Organization suggests that behaviour changes can reduce the spread by as much as 80%. “This also means that government and public health agencies should implement the policies of limited group gatherings to less than 50, ensure people who are attending these wear masks and their temperatures are checked.
If governments get it right and nudge behaviour in the right direction, the resources available to fight the disease will go much further,” said Dr Shashikiran Umakanth, Prof and Head, Department of Medicine, and also Nodal officer for Covid at Dr TMA Pai Hospital, Udupi. One should completely avoid large gatherings, especially religious and political ones. The government should work towards eliminating the stigma around Covid, encourage people to come forward for testing, help them isolate themselves and ensure they don’t spread the disease.