Are we serious about physical distancing?

Choki Wangmo

Almost a month after the government asked people to practise physical distancing, people are reportedly found not abiding by it.

At Lungtenzampa taxi parking, a group of taxi drivers were in deep conversation. They are waiting for passengers but their daily chit-chat overtook their search for passengers.

Driving cab for the past 15 years had been Phuntsho’s sole vocation, gossiping in groups with his fellow taxi drivers another. It has been hard for him to distance and avoid his friends despite repeated reminders about physical distancing. “I try to remind myself to keep a metre distance from my friends but we end up forming groups.”

“I am self-conscious from time to time but old habits die hard,” said Phuntsho smiling, adding that at home, he is cautious with safety and cleans himself before interacting with his family. He physically distances himself from his two children to reduce risk.

In the Centenary Farmers Market (CFM), a vegetable vendor, Sonam Yangdon, said she was accused of being rude while trying to distance from her customers. “I am following the directives for everyone’s safety. With a huge crowd at the market, it is the riskiest place but people don’t understand.”

She interacts with more than 30 customers every day.

CFM manager, Tshering Tenzin, said the management had created safe distance with red lines for customers but the effort had been futile. “Unless the individuals take responsibility and take the precautions, it is difficult to monitor.”

He, however, said it was difficult to maintain physical distance while doing business. “From next weekend, the management is planning to seek help from the police to monitor physical distancing among shoppers.”

The automobile workshop in Olakha is a commercial hub. Due to the nature of their work, the mechanics were not taking any safety precautions. They were mostly seen in small groups without any handwashing facilities, sanitisers and facemasks.

Few people Kuensel talked to said that although they were mindful about physical distancing, it is hard to sustain the practice since there was no record of community transmission in the country. Many said that they were at ease because they feel their friends and families won’t have the virus.

Physical distancing, however, is not a luxury for Sonam. He lives in one of the slums in Thimphu with four other members. They share a room and have no choice to physically maintain a metre distance.

Despite repeated government announcements to maintain physical distance, many official meetings also do not abide by the advisory.

Officials around the world say physical distancing is the key to slow down the spread of the pandemic. But experts say that it is hard and against the basic human instinct to socially isolate.

Beginning yesterday, the government announced the closure of all businesses by 7 pm and scrutiny of those people visiting public spaces or roaming in groups of three.

The move is expected to minimise the risk of community transmission as increasing numbers of people come out of the quarantine centres.

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