Social Distancing and ‘Flattening’ the Coronavirus Curve

What Does ‘Flattening’ the Coronavirus Curve Mean?

3 min read

The World Health Organisation (WHO) declared the novel coronavirus outbreak a global pandemic, claiming that it is ‘deeply concerned by the alarming levels of the coronavirus spread, severity, and inaction, and expects to see the number of cases, deaths, and affected countries climb even higher’.

Efforts around the world are now underway to contain further spread of the novel coronavirus and to bring the number of cases down. Towards this effort, the term 'flatten the curve,' is being used a lot.

What does it mean?

Epidemiologists have been talking about the need to ‘flattening’ the curve of the virus as it spreads across the world, in order to avoid a considerably high jump in numbers. What this flattening of curve will achieve is delaying the peak - and this delay will give us more time to develop vaccines and figure out treatment options.

Since India is still in its initial phase of the epidemic, timely interventions can perhaps work in doing just this.

The pattern that needs to be aimed for is: contain, delay, research, and mitigate.

How Can This Be Done? Social Distancing Might Be Key

China has recorded over 80,000 confirmed cases, of which 80 percent have recovered. Proactive measures in the country, like locking down millions of people, are believed to have helped, says a report by The Lancet.

The report states that steps such as quarantine, social distancing, and isolation of the infected populations worked in containing the epidemic.

Japan, Hong Kong, and Singapore seemed to have ‘flattened the curve’, despite being close to China, while Italy has recorded a staggering 12000 cases with a death toll above 800. Prime Minister of Italy, Giuseppe Conte, has now announced that the country is to close all shops except food stores and pharmacies in the continent’s toughest lockdown yet.

The probability of other countries, such as the US and UK, being on the same track as Italy in terms of experiencing a significant jump in cases, is extremely high.

So what works? And what does ‘social distancing’ mean?

The CDC defines social distancing as “remaining out of congregate settings, avoiding mass gatherings, and maintaining distance” whenever possible.

  • Voluntary and mandated quarantine

  • Self-isolation

  • Stopping/avoiding mass gatherings

  • Closure of educational and workplaces

  • Isolating households or cities

India has, with over 70 confirmed cases, announced that all visas to India – except diplomatic, official, UN/international organisations, employment, and project visas – stand suspended till 15 April. Those already in the country will not be affected by the suspension.

What Does ‘Flattening’ the Coronavirus Curve Mean?

The Lancet model shows how proactive measures of keeping distance, voluntarily avoiding mass gatherings, or imposing temporary shut-downs could help ‘flatten’ the curve. Without these measures, the cases are expected to peak, as the red graph signifies. Implementing social distancing can help contain the virus and bring down cases to what a country’s health infrastructure can handle.

Closures of Schools - Do They Work?

The report, however, also mentions that school closure may not be as effective, considering the seemingly low rate of infection among children. Similarly, avoiding large gatherings of people will reduce the number of super-spreading events, but if prolonged contact is required for transmission, this measure may only help with a small proportion.

The uncertainty is due to remaining questions about the virus, that has never been encountered in humans before. However, proactive measures are needed to prevent a spike that other countries have evidently experienced. Better safe than sorry — is the idea.

Importantly, individual behaviour will be important to control the spread by

  • Early self-isolation

  • Seeking medical advice remotely unless symptoms are severe

  • Social distancing

Along with this, government actions to ban mass gatherings, better diagnostic facilities and specialized treatment for people with illnesses are extremely crucial measures.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)


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Topics:  Quint Fit   Coronavirus 2019   COVID-19 FAQ 

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