Superstitions, class bias, fake news: Here are some byproducts of the coronavirus panic

People tend to believe false information as a sort of mental coping mechanism.

WrittenBy:Shaunak Ghosh
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On March 17, the third case of COVID-19 was found in the NCR suburb of Noida. A 35-year-old man tested positive for coronavirus after returning from France a few days ago. He lives in the Hyde Park Housing Society in Sector 78.

The moment this became public, the whole housing society went into panic mode. Residents were aimlessly loitered on the premises. Security guards wore face masks, every visitor was checked thoroughly and were given hand sanitiser.

Shockingly, the society chose to restrict the entry of one specific class of service providers: household help, drivers, and delivery boys. Customers who placed orders with online retailers had to come downstairs and collect their orders from the main gate, forcing them to break their self-quarantine.

Why were house help and drivers banned? The security guard said he was only following the orders he'd received. A passing resident said: "Yahi log zyaada gandagi phailatey hain (These are the people who spread dirt).”

This, obviously, defies logic. Also, most of the people that have been affected in the country have been those who belong to the affluent strata of society.

Another thing that was witnessed was that people’s bags were being checked by the security guards. 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 coronavirus.

COVID-19 has created such paranoia among citizens that they are ready to believe any fake news that is being spread on social media. The confirmation of a positive case created such havoc inside the society that almost everyone 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 faultlines 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 why people 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 coronavirus scare.”

Srivastava says 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 says that her profession too is affected by 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 sanitisers and masks has grown immensely. A store manager at Big Bazaar, DLF Mall of India, says the sales of hand sanitisers in their outlet has grown by more than 100 percent. “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 Srivastava.

This article first appeared in Patriot.

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.


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