Reactions to Quarantine and Lockdowns
As we increasingly recognize, that there remain challenges and need for adequate planning and provision of resources to many sections and communities of our society, while holding a nationwide lockdown and curfews in many cities. This seemed like a necessary next step when self-quarantining and social distancing wasn’t enough to control the spread of the respiratory disease. Understandably so in a country as densely populated as ours.
What is interesting here, is to see so many people who may not be bound directly by limitation of resources in absence of daily functions, yet tend to evade the strict regulations and advisory from experts and officials. In the advent of a pandemic like the Covid-19 and the huge threat it poses, it only becomes more fascinating to look at how we as humans deal with it. Something, we may likely learn more about in retrospect. But, while we are in the process of experiencing it first-hand, why not take an additional step to understand the mindset behind what we see around us.
Although our main focus is helping with mental health and related resources as much as possible in these tough times. As psychologists, psychiatrists, we cannot help but wonder about the behaviours we observe. Call it an inclination or an opinion, but we feel compelled to rationalize and dig every data humankind has to offer. So, here we are trying to explore one of the instances this unusual situation has brought to attention – the possible reasons behind the tendency to dodge quarantine measures when it doesn’t affect one with the same extreme intensity compared to others.
It is important to acknowledge at this point, the rarity of such an event as a pandemic happening, and gratefully so. Although, it brings to light the fact that so many of us may not have expected the magnitude of impact it can have when we first heard about its outbreak in the news. This may have contributed to the stun, despair and unpreparedness that followed once it started spreading across the globe. With warnings from other highly impacted countries and WHO’s interventions, it geared everyone to approach it with more seriousness and focus on taking steps to prevent its spread and cope, although not making it any less shocking.
Although people have different responses to shock, the one thing that such a situation always seems to create successfully is- confusion. This confusion further gives rise to general panic, anxiety and fear. The fear is genuine and so is the uncertainty that comes with it. However, what is notable is how mentally contagious and unavoidable the fear and panic is. It spreads much faster than the disease itself. And in this particular case it seems, this very uncertainty may have led to people into panic buying, feeding into the presumed urgency. All this, even at the cost of risking a gathering and potential exposure to the illness itself. It is interesting what widespread fear and panic can do, shadowing our capability to reason and think clearly.
Moreover, to act appropriately, there has to be clarity in understanding the disease, how it spreads and becomes a pandemic and why quarantining will help control it. Although now we know of local announcements, notices, ads and broadcasts that talk about the coronavirus in different languages, it does raise the question of how much of the complete information actually available is accessible to variety of people in a country like India, given the barriers of language, literacy, ability to read/comprehend and to use online resources to their benefit. It is relevant to remember here, that if you are reading this then you likely not just have access and means to gather information and resources but also understand it and know how to use them. This plays a crucial role in knowing what measures to take and how to seek help. Recently, an article reported that an Indian-American team has been translating the Covid-19 material in over 30 Indian languages and more International languages, recognizing the lack of accessible health information in different languages, especially for certain vulnerable populations.  (article link below) At the same time, circulation of incomplete, inauthentic messages and rumours on social media make it challenging to differentiate between true, valuable and false, redundant information on social media. For instance, the idea that virus doesn’t survive in heat and hot temperatures and of remedies to combat it using heat was highly circulated and believed by many. However, this claim was not really verified.
On the other hand of fear, there were interesting reports of so many cases where people were seen roaming around without a specific cause, almost looked like they were defying and challenging the authorities and probably showed a general lack of seriousness and care regarding the pandemic. This definitely brings us back to the above addressed concerns on rarity of such an event and the access to adequate information and availability of resources regarding the same.
What this also brings to light is the initial lack of awareness regarding coronavirus and the gravity of the disease, which seems to have improved overtime through multiple repeated campaigns, news media and government issued orders. Although, it appears difficult and too early to gauge the extent to which it has been helpful. In line with awareness, another aspect of the Covid-19 that had gained a lot of popularity, not just in India but also in other countries is the fact that it mostly affects people in older ages. Hence, the youth does not have to worry about being infected. This was also debunked by the medical experts, also through recorded cases and found to be incorrect.
It is funny how both of these situations of panic and complete lack of it have been able to co-exist.
Lastly, it is impossible to miss what this unique situation has brought to our attention. The fact that as Indians our culture is so inherently communal and collective in nature that social distancing was non-existent thus far. It’s perceived more of a punishment than a remote possibility. Yet here we are. From families, friends and relatives staying close-by, to 3 generational families in a single home, it seems so unnatural to not just go and knock on your neighbour’s door. Not to mention that every other event warrants a gathering. We as a community tend to be highly outgoing, social and involved compared to so many other cultures around the world. Meeting and maintaining interactions and connections is so integrated in our culture that it defines not just our social habits, but flows into so many areas of our lives and environment. Thankfully, technology has been taking over resolving some of it, and yet this lockdown situation -it reminds us of schoolchildren -who are anxiously and eagerly waiting for the recess bell to ring, only to run out and meet their friends.
It is going to be interesting to draw parallels in responses to quarantine and lockdowns in other countries and see if we find more similarities or differences.
Until then, while everyone continues doing their own bit, let’s try our best to be compassionate (from afar), keeping in mind how are actions are going to affect others around us and try to live as mindfully and responsibly as possible.
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