Indians drop guard on masking, social distancing norms as festive season begins

By Livemint
Health experts have warned that there could be a rise in covid-19 cases between October and December. (AFP)

New Delhi: As India enters peak festive season that sees greater instances of socializing and gatherings, a survey has found reduced compliance to masking and lowering of guard when it comes to social distancing in what are signs of slackening covid-appropriate behaviour in the country.

In a survey conducted by community platform LocalCircles, only 13% of those surveyed rated mask compliance as good, while only 6% of those surveyed said that social-distancing compliance around them was “good". The survey received over 65,000 responses from citizens across 366 districts in the country.

It asked those surveyed about compliance to mask and social distancing protocols in their cities and districts, especially when traveling and at spaces such as vaccination centres and markets. Those surveyed ranked markets as spaces that led non-compliance to social distancing.

“With 2021 festive season already on and likely to see significantly higher levels of socializing, shopping and community events, the risk of covid-19 cases rising is now high," said Sachin Taparia, founder, LocalCircles.

India witnessed a severe second wave of covid-19 infections earlier this year. Now, health experts have warned that festivities of Dussehra, Diwali, Durga Puja, Milan-un-Id and Christmas and a wedding season could give rise to more cases between October and December.

Meanwhile, a steady vaccination drive is also giving consumers the confidence to step out. The desire to travel is currently stronger than the one LocalCircles reported in February-March this year, it said.

Recently, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) warned that the pandemic’s third wave could see cases surge by as much as 47% linked to increased leisure travel during the festive season.

In an earlier survey conducted in June 2021, LocalCircles had indicated that mask compliance was rated as effective by 29% people, with social distancing compliance as effective by 11% of those surveyed then.

“The drop in mask compliance ratings from 29% to 13% and in social distancing compliance ratings from 11% to 6% indicates that complacency has set in with many now believing that covid is gone," Taparia said.

The central government, state governments and district administrations must ensure that clear guidelines are formed and enforced for community gatherings and compliance to masking and social distancing norms. Moreover, aggressive awareness campaigns and compliance in tier- 3, -4 towns and rural districts must be undertaken, it said.

Meanwhile in its latest survey, 7% respondents told LocalCircles there is no masking in their respective city or district.

“Over 30% said there are 0-30% of people are compliant; another 32% said 30-60%, 16% said it’s 60-90% are compliant, and 13% said over 90% people are compliant to masking protocol. On an aggregate basis, only 13% of citizens say mask compliance is effective in their area, district, or city," it said.

Similarly, only 30% citizens reported mask compliance during air, road, and rail travel.

Compliance to effective masking aside, social distancing that was enforced when covid-19 cases peaked in the first wave, also seems to be waning away. “Only 6% said there is good compliance, and another 6% said they have not been out of their home in the last 30 days," LocalCircles said as part of its findings.

“Social distancing compliance in India is somewhat feasible when there are lockdown or restrictions in place. However, once public places like metros, buses, markets, airports opened up, social distancing violations are visible everywhere one looks," it added.

At least 25% of the respondents said there is no social distancing compliance at all in their area, while 63% reported "limited" compliance. Among the top indoor locations where they have observed low social distancing compliance in the last 30 days were vaccination centres, trains, buses, malls and indoor shopping complexes.


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