Changing behaviours to fight the virus

Almost every day, I read how health workers and hospitals turn on patients with minuscule complaints of cough in the face of the susceptibility of coronavirus infection. As a sore throat and common cold trouble me during season change, the outbreak of COVID-19 in Kathmandu ramped up my worries. What further escalated my concerns was my five-month-old daughter, about whose health I am more sensitive these days. Also, my six-year-old son, who loves to jump and run around, makes me wary. Owing to the fact that it takes time to shape his behaviours regarding safe touching, my wife and I are constantly tending to him. Nonetheless, as a child, he easily forgets or ignores the touch etiquette taught by us. And thus, it is not possible for him to wash his hands after every unsafe touch. Since visiting the health centres is itself unsafe during this pandemic, I deem these concerns legitimate, also for others living with the coronavirus burden.

As my relatives live in the local vicinity, we used to gather for dinner or lunch every week at one of our relatives’ place. We all enjoyed the gatherings as it was a chance to share our feelings and sentiments while also giving the kids an opportunity to mingle with members of the broader family. However, the deadly coronavirus fear has brought about some drastic changes in our life. We have not met physically since the lockdown began. Likewise, you must have your own story associated with the lockdown-life. Hence, the realisation of some commonalities of my experiences with many others has invoked me to write something about how we don't have choices other than to change our daily behaviours and relation-protocols.

Given the fact that safe touching is the only measure that we have to keep ourselves safe from the pandemic, I have set some stringent rules during this self-confinement period. They range from a total stop to family gatherings and visiting others’ homes to not kissing even our kids and compulsorily washing of hands before touching any food or body parts, especially the face. However, my attempts may go in vain if my relatives and those living in my locality do not do so. The same applies to all denizens living with the corona dread. Hence, I deem it necessary to put forth some basic but extremely essential behavioural traits.

Unlike some traditions that are alien to us, our culture forbids us to touch one another in most cases. For instance, one common welcoming gesture for them is to give a hug or even a kiss even when two individuals meet for the first time whereas welcoming anyone with a Namaste is our original custom. Although we also greet our parents or a relative with a bow, it is gradually fading. Amid this scenario, some of our touching traits need to change. For instance, many of us are not careful or sensitive when touching our toddlers. Likewise, we may be ignorant in maintaining physical distance while holding or dealing with children, making them inhale our spit and breath. So much so that we frequently touch our face and nose with unwashed or unsanitised hands as a habit, which may enhance our vulnerability.

Every day in the morning, after the lockdown started, I find two individuals standing by a compound wall adjoining the public road. They share the tobacco prepared by one of them with a hand that is unlikely to have been sanitised. During their stay in the sun for around one hour, each of them spits on the wall and the road more than 30 times and even discharge mucus when clearing their noses. Spitting in public places is common in Nepal.

Morning gatherings regularly with my fellow-teachers and/or my students during off-hours were part of my regular life before the lockdown. I am sure none of the tea-gatherings was safe as anyone could have been a carrier of contagious viruses or diseases. If we become cautious and discuss these matters without any hesitation, we can change our daily behaviours.

"Cover your nose with a handkerchief while sneezing," was a moral statement I taught school children long ago. This and many other personal and public etiquette should be made a part of our culture, and this is the perfect time to cultivate such behaviours in the general public through cnstant messages by employing a wide range of communication channels, including the mass media, social media and other relevant platforms.  Most importantly, the government should take a lead on this. I hope the pandemic-induced lockdown will bring about some significant changes and lead us towards a more civilised society.

Acharya is a lecturer in journalism and mass communication