Lock Down and Social Distancing Strategy to Fight Covid-19: Unmasking the Reality of Rural North Bengal

Dulon Sarkar
Bishnu Barman
In December, 2019, a pneumonia
outbreak was reported in Wuhan, China. On 31st December 2019 the
outbreak was traced to a novel strain of Corona Virus. On 11th
February World Health Organistion (WHO) proposed an official name of the virus
as Covid – 19. Covid – 19 infection spread 199 countries and territories of
across the globe rapidly
(Zhang, 2020). The first one lakh people
(Globally) were infected in over 67 days.  The next one lakh people were infected within
11 days only and within four more days another more 1 lakh people added on to
the lot. At present, in every two days more than one lakh people are getting
infected globally. No vaccines yet come in to existence to control the Covid –

At present, globally 737204
persons are infected by Covid – 19 out of which 34959 persons died and 156263
recovered (30th March, 2020 at 5:53 pm). On 3rd march,
2020, WHO estimated 3.48 percent mortality rate globally
(WHO Director-General ’ s opening remarks at the media briefing on
COVID-19 – 3 March 2020
, 2020)

Covid – 19 in India and Lock down Strategy
The first confirmed case in India
was reported on 30th January, 2020 in Kerala
(Unit, 2020). In India 1209 confirmed
case are reported out of which 31 persons died of and 102 persons are
recovered. In India maximum infection of Covid – 19 is found in Maharastra
(215) and Kerala (202)
(#IndiaFightsCorona Important Information For Corona – Virus, n.d.). In West Bengal 22 persons
are infected out of which 2 persons died of and no one is recovered (30th
March, 2020 at 5:53 pm)
(Singh, 2020).

To fight with this highly
infectious pandemic hazard, ‘Minimization of Social Distance’ by implementing
‘Lock Down’, ‘Home Quarantine’ and ‘Isolation’ strategies were applied successfully
in Wuhan and Hubei province by the Government of China. Italy, Britain, Spain
and other infected countries except South Korea have also been applying the
same technique.            

Government of West Bengal decided
to close down all educational institutions and prohibited all kind of mass
gathering since 16th march, 2020 to 31st march 2020 to
prevent the community infection. The first positive case was detected in West
Bengal on 17th March, 2020. Considering the gravity of the
situation, at insist of the Prime Minister, Modi, India observed a 14 hours
voluntary public curfew on 22nd March 2020. The Central Government
of India followed up with lock down in 75 districts as well as major cities
where Covid – 19 cases had occurred
(Newerablog & Read, 2020). Further on 24th
march, 2020, the PM of India ordered a nationwide lock down for 21 days to slow
down or possibly stop the exponential spread of Covid – 19 infections among the

Although the number of total
infected cases climbed to 1071 in India on Monday (30th March, 2020
at 10:30 pm),while the death toll rose 29
(Dangerous situation as exodus of migrant workers continues: Manish Sisodia, 2020), data of last few days proved
that the lock down strategy in India performed well to arrest the exponential
growth of Covid – 19 infections among the people.
rate in Percentage
 (Source: 365 din, Bengali News
paper, 29th March, 2020)

The research paper entitled ‘Age
Structured Impact of Social Distancing on the Covid – 19 Epidemic in India”
published on open access pre – print repository, researchers claimed that the 21st
days lock down that Government of India has imposed is unlikely to be effective
and there will be resurgence of Covid – 19 at the end of it. Researchers
suggested a protocol of sustained lock down with periodic relaxation.
North Bengal
Northern districts of West Bengal
comprising 8 districts namely, Cooch Behar, Alipurduar, Jalpaiguri, Kalimpong,
Darjeeling, Uttar Dinajpur, Dakshin Dinajpur and Maldah popularly known as
North Bengal witnessed its first Covid – 19 infected case on 29th March, 2020
who died on 30th March, 2020 in North Bengal Medical college
(Singh, 2020).

Total population of this region
is 17.2 million with an average population density of
804 persons per sq.km. which is comparatively lower than
state average 1024 per sq. km. 80.53 percent people of this entire region lived
in rural area
types of All Households (7)
, n.d.)

Table shows that, average rural
population density in the districts of north Bengal is 599.40 per sq km. in the
rural area of the region, average household size is 3.82 and 80.02 percent rural
households have monthly earning lower than 5000/- only. 43.92 percent
households earn their livelihood engaging themselves as manual casual labour.
The region is a supplier zone of
unskilled, migrant
laborers typically known as Unorganised Sector in economic
terms. The mobility of people is relatively very high through land ports and
surface transportation system across borders
(Hannan, 2020).  

Due to low income and irregular
sources of income mainly from agriculture and unorganized sectors, people
rarely are privileged to save anything for the future. The unprecedented,
sudden lock down without any notice pushed them forcefully inside the house.
These manual casual laborers and Migrant laborers lost their jobs as well as sources
of earnings. They, hardly could be able to manage the situation few more days.
Very soon they have to come out from their house ignoring the probability of
Covid – 19 infection violating Lockdown situation to save their family member
from starvation.
Continuous home return
of Circulatory Migrants laborers from different Covid – 19 infected states
like, Kerala, Maharastra, Karnataka and Tamilnadu during last 5-6 days after
the announcement of lockdown by the Central Government increased the
probability of Covid – 19 infection in rural North Bengal as all of them have
traveled through long distance over crowed train and bus journeys
(Hannan, 2020). Majority of them have been sent for 14 days home quarantine
and asked to stay home in their villages
: West Bengal govt asks districts to set up temporary
shelters for poor , migrants

Data reveals that 44.32
percent rural households of the entire north Bengal have maximum one room in
their house.  37.77 percent households
consist of 2 rooms and 12.4 percent households consist of 3 rooms. Only 6.58
percent households privileged to have more than 3 rooms houses.

If the internal
structure of the houses in the rural North Bengal is considered, it can be
found that most of the households in the rural North Bengal consist of 2 or
three separate huts made of tin as their building and roof materials on wooden
frame. One separate hut is assigned as kitchen, one is assigned for the living
of domestic animals and store room. In most cases only one room is shared by
all family members for their living purpose. Very often it is found that
households even don’t have sanitary latrine. Rural people shares common sources
of water like well, tube well and ponds for drinking and other domestic

So, the policy of
maintaining social distance could hardly be achieved in rural North Bengal.
Therefore, the prescription of 14 days home quarantine staying at home in their
villages may turn into fatal community infection.         

The potentiality of success of
the Lock down and home quarantine strategy as an weapon to slow down or
possibly stop the exponential spread of Covid – 19 infections among the people
cannot be denied as its vaccine yet to be discovered. But it is very hard to
fully implement the strategy in rural North Bengal without proper planning.
Government has to come up with strategy to implement the Lock down and home
quarantine strategy.
l. PDS system has to be made
transparent irrespective the socio – political banner 
2. Village resource persons
(VRPs) may be activated in booth level to come up with quick survey on the food
stock of every household and to report block level concerned authority. Foods,
sanitary equipment should be distributed as per the requirement through the
3. Primary Schools, High School
buildings may be converted into Home Quarantine centers.  Symptomatic and Asymptomatic individual
during their primary observation may send to these Home Quarantine centers
instead of sending them back home to stay at home. Infrastructures of MDM
system of those schools may also be utilized.

Dulon Sarkar is Assistant Professor, Department of Geography, Cluny Women’s College, Kalimpong

Bishnu Barman is Research Scholar, Department of Geography, Raiganj University

Authors acknowledge Dr. Abdul Hannan, Assistant Professor, Sikkim Central University Gangtok for his inspiration and valuable suggestions. 

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