Social Distancing Forgotten, Country Raises a Racket at 5 pm

In some places, residents came out to the streets beating drums. Firecrackers too were burst in several localities.

New Delhi: Amidst news of a rapidly rising number of cases of COVID-19, lockdowns in several states, the ceasing of railway services and the sealing of Delhi’s borders, the popular highlight of the daylong ‘janata curfew’ on Sunday, March 22, came at 5 pm.

In response to a call by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday, March 19, men, women and children who had for the day been at home, emerged on to the streets and on the balconies to raise a veritable din. Modi had asked for five minutes worth of applause, ringing of bells and the banging of household items to ‘deliver’ thanks to healthcare professionals and workers who have been putting their lives on the line to fight the spread of the coronavirus and maintain normalcy at this time.

What took place across apartment complexes and households in some parts of the country was a nearly 30-minute long ritual where not only was there raucous clapping, but also the banging of brass and steel plates amidst the blowing of conch shells and ululation. In places, residents came out on to the streets beating drums. Firecrackers too were burst in several places, raising a racket that far outlasted the five minute limit.

The tenets of social distancing — so integral to the fight to keep the coronavirus at bay — were largely ignored.

In some areas, the mood became so jubilant after the event that within minutes shops which had remained shut through the day opened in a business-as-usual mode. People began to flood the streets despite the fact that the “janata curfew” was supposed to go on till 9 pm. Reports of regular traffic also started coming in immediately after 5 pm from some towns and regions.

As videos flowed in from different quarters of India, the voluntary 14-hour curfew, announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to encourage social distancing seems to have achieved the opposite.

Reports of people observing self-isolation in their homes kept coming throughout the day, and it seemed that the prime minister’s message had worked to a great extent. But much of it came to nought at 5 pm.

The exercise saw large participation by children, most of whom have no school thanks to the abrupt closures and the deferment of exams.

Even as Union ministers and political leaders diligently followed the prime minister’s call, social media exploded with criticisms of the the heightened social interactions on a day people were supposed to stay at home.

Since social distancing is almost an alien concept in India, and can be economically challenging for many, observers held the prime minister responsible for risking so many lives by giving a call to stage this spectacle.

Meanwhile, the Union health ministry thanked people for observing the janata curfew. The minister-in-charge also thanked the prime minister for inspiring citizens to follow social distancing.

Earlier in the day, the prime minister tweeted to remind people of the clapping event, and also to tell them that each citizen is “a valued soldier” in the “battle” against COVID-19.

Also read: States Announce Self-Imposed Lockdowns To Battle Coronavirus

However, as people appeared to celebrate the success of  the “janata curfew” together and appeared to go back to their usual routines, the prime minister had to caution them by the end of the day. “The janata curfew will end at 9 p.m tonight but this does not mean you should celebrate. Do not consider it as a success. This is just the beginning of a long battle,” he said.