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Irrational responses

Last updated on March 21, 2020

As the Coronavirus fear grips the country, the common man has become paranoid, putting faith in superstitions and indulging in xenophobia

ON MARCH 17, the third case of Covid-19 was found in the NCR suburb of Noida. A man, 35, was found to have contracted coronavirus, after he came back a few days ago from France. He lives in the Hyde Park Housing Society in Sector 78.

The moment this news came out in the open, the whole housing society went into panic mode. Residents were milling aimlessly around the premises. Security guards were wearing face masks, every visitor was being checked thoroughly, and were given sanitizers.

What was shocking was the fact that the society had restricted the entry of a specific class of service providers–maids, drivers and delivery boys. Customers who had placed orders with online retailers had to come down and collect it from the main gate, forcing them to break their self-quarantine.

When asked why the maids and drivers had been banned, the security guard said that he had received orders and was only following them. A resident passing by said, “Yahi log zyaada gandagi phailatey hain (These are the people who spread dirt)”. This defies logic, as most of the people that have been affected in the country have been those who belong to the affluent strata of society.

Another quite strange thing that was witnessed was that people’s bags were being checked by the security. When asked, they said they were checking for raw meat, and they had been advised by the society authorities to not let people enter with raw chicken, mutton or fish, as this would lead to the spread of the Coronavirus.

Covid-19 has created such paranoia among the citizens, that they are ready to fall into any trap, and any fake news that is being spread on social media. The confirmation of a positive case created such a huge havoc inside the society, that almost all people we met had fear in their eyes. “This is dangerous. We need to take precautions, otherwise, we will die,” says Pushp, a resident of the society.

The fear of the virus has exposed other fault lines in society.

“Such is the fear among the common man that they resort to believing all sorts of false information just to provide relief to themselves in these times. It’s a sort of mental coping mechanism”, says psychiatrist Priyanka Srivastava. This leads to things like class hatred, as was the case in the Hyde Park Society. Incidentally, the same protocols were followed in most other societies in Sector 78.

Srivastava also says that this is the reason why people are vulnerable to even fall prey to superstitions. “People are actually believing that cow urine can stop corona, and even rational people who are coming for consultation have shared the fact that they have considered trying the remedy to ward off the virus.”

One positive fallout of the panic is that people are voluntarily practising social distancing. They are locking themselves up in their home, as many companies have given the option to work from home. It helps that schools and colleges are closed and malls and multiplexes have shut down until further notice.

However, being home alone is not easy for everyone. “I basically have nothing to do at home, and even working from home is so frustrating. The office space provides a healthy environment to work with colleagues, but at home I feel lethargic,” says Ranit Das, a media professional. “I can’t go out with all these restrictions, and even my parents who were supposed to come visit me from Kolkata have cancelled because of this Corona scare”, he adds.

Dr Srivastava says that working from home does cause the human mind to be a little bit inactive. “We are accustomed to working from an office space, and that is what we associate our work with. So, the work you do from home is far less productive than what you do at the office”, she explains.

She also says that her profession too is affected by the Coronavirus. “I have many patients visiting me saying that they are feeling low and inactive as they have nothing to do. My patient flow has increased quite a bit, especially since the first death was reported in India,” she says. In fact, she says, the first question patients ask her is whether she has travelled to any foreign country in the recent past. “When I say I went to Europe around six months back, the patients either do not return or walk away immediately”, she adds.

That the panic is spreading exponentially can be observed from the fact that sales of hand sanitizers and masks has grown hugely. A store manager at Big Bazaar, DLF Mall of India, says that the sales of hand sanitizers in their outlet has grown by more than 100%. “Just half an hour ago we had a new batch of sanitizers, but they are all sold out now,” he adds.

“People are so habituated to their daily routine that such a drastic change in lifestyles is difficult to cope with. Add to this a lingering fear of death and people can have genuine mental breakdowns because of it,” concludes a concerned Dr Srivastava.

Correction: This article has been updated to correct the age of the Hyde Park Housing Society patient. The error is regretted.

The Patriot contacted LK Sharma, a representative of the society, for details about the steps taken to contain the spread of the infection, but he declined to comment. This story will be updated if a comment is received.