Despite Omicron cases rising in India, social distancing compliance is non-existent now
- ● 83% citizens say that there is negligible or zero social distancing compliance in their city/district/area, only 13% identify some compliance
- ● 87% of citizens who travelled in the last 30 days say social distancing compliance is not effective during travel (flights/airports, trains/ railways stations, bus/bus stands, etc.)
- ● If Omicron cases start rising, such lack of social distancing compliance could pose a major issue
December 15, 2021, New Delhi: India has recorded nearly 40 cases of the Omicron variant while dozens of COVID-19 positive samples are being genome tested across labs in India. The variant, which has scientists and epidemiologists from around the world raise red flags, was categorised as a “variant of concern” by the World Health Organisation just after two days of Omicron being detected in South Africa on November 24. In over a week, Omicron has been detected in over 60 countries from around the world with all major nations included. The latest data suggests that the variant has between 30-50 mutations and likely a 500% transmission advantage over the base or alpha variants of COVID. The Union Health Ministry has alerted all states and Union Territories to be on alert and to increase testing and monitoring with special guidelines being implemented for screening and testing of international passengers.
Many global research labs have come out in the past one week sharing the results of their research, which indicates that two doses of the vaccine are insufficient to provide immunity against Omicron and a booster dose of mRNA vaccine is needed for protection against the virus. This is greatly concerning for India as Covishield (Astrazeneca) vaccine accounts for 90% of the jabs given in the country so far. While the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has recommended an additional dose of COVID vaccine only after nine months of the second dose, research is awaited whether the 3rd dose of Covishield or Astrazeneca can provide immunity against Omicron. This leaves the use of mask and social distancing as the only and absolute preventative measure. The WHO has also asked countries to take preventative measures like hand hygiene, physical distancing, improving ventilation and wearing well-fitted masks.
India has already started taking preventative measures like revising travel guidelines for international travellers. Citizens coming from ‘at risk’ countries are being tested for RT-PCR. As per officials, there has been a surge in travel since the beginning of the festive season in October. Social media has been rife with citizens complaining of long queues in overcrowded airports and railway stations. With more than 132 crore vaccine doses administered in India, and daily caseloads in the 7000-12,000 range, citizens have surely let their guard down. A previous survey conducted by LocalCircles in October 2021 revealed that during the festive season, only 3% of citizens as saying that social distancing compliance is effective in their area or district.
In the aftermath of Omicron cases rising exponentially in South Africa, Zimbabwe, the United Kingdom, Denmark and several other countries, LocalCircles has conducted another study to understand how Indians rate social distancing compliance in their city, district or city. Further, the survey also gauged social distancing compliance during their travel. This allows both the broader citizenry and the Government to understand where things stand and what needs to be worked upon that is of pivotal importance in the fundamental control of the future wave of the COVID pandemic. The survey received more than 25,000 responses. 63% of the participants were men while 37% were women. 42% respondents were from tier 1 districts, 35% from tier 2 and 23% respondents were from tier 3, 4 and rural districts.
83% citizens say that there is negligible or zero social distancing compliance in their city/district/area
The first question in the survey asked citizens, “With the new variant getting identified in India, how are people in your city/district/area now complying with social distancing norms?” In response, 41% of citizens said that there is “no compliance at all”. Breaking down the poll, 42% said that “0-30%” people are compliant, 11% said “30-60%”, and 2% said “60-90%” people are compliant while 4% couldn’t say. On an aggregate basis, 83% of citizens say that social distancing compliance is negligible or zero in their area/district/city. This question in the survey received 16,636 responses.
Whether it is offices, markets or weddings, compliance to social distancing protocols is by and large not happening.
Despite the threat of Omicron variant being identified in India, Indians believe social distancing compliance is non-existent
With a decline in daily cases and an increase in the total number of vaccinated citizens in the country, social distancing compliance has seen a major decline post the 2nd wave of the pandemic. In a similar survey conducted by LocalCircles in April 2021, only 11% of citizens rated social distancing compliance high in their city or district. This percentage further dropped to 6% in September 2021. During the festive season, with citizens shopping and socialising, mask compliance dropped drastically to only 3%. This percentage is now zero, indicating that social distancing compliance is non-existent in December 2021 despite the threat of the Omicron variant spreading in India.
In a related survey released a few weeks ago, LocalCircles found that 1 in 3 Indians believe that people in their area/district are not even carrying a mask now when stepping out of the home. The survey found that only 2% of citizens rate mask compliance in their area/district/city as high while the majority said that the compliance was below average.
Citizens who travelled in the last 30 days say social distancing compliance is not effective during travel (flights/airports, trains/ railways stations, bus/bus stands, etc.)
The next question asked citizens about their common experience in regards to compliance to social distancing norms when they travelled using flights/airports, trains/railway stations or bus/bus stands in the last 30 days. In response, 52% said that there is “no social distancing compliance at all”. Breaking down the poll, 35% said “0-30%”, and 13% citizens said “30-60%” people were complying properly. Out of the 8,600 responses, none opted for “90%+ people were complying properly” or “60-90% were complying well.” This is across different locations and various modes of transportation and indicates that there is literally no social distancing happening during travel.
Delhi IGI Airport terminal 3 arrival area as seen on December 4th, 2021
In summary, social distancing compliance is now non-existent as per citizen feedback despite the Omicron variant spreading in India. In a matter of 9 days, Omicron cases have shot up from 0 to 40. Further, the survey revealed that social distancing compliance is not effective during travel (flights/ airports, trains/railway stations, bus/bus stands, etc.) and the same can be easily observed by walking into any airport, railway station or bus stand. With research suggesting that Covishield or Astrazeneca vaccine has near-zero efficacy against Omicron, the need of the hour is to create awareness about the importance of social distancing among the public, impose restrictions where needed and drive-up enforcement.
The survey received more than 25,000 responses. 63% of the participants were men while 37% were women. 42% respondents were from tier 1 districts, 35% from tier 2 and 23% respondents were from tier 3, 4 and rural districts. The survey was conducted via LocalCircles platform and all participants are validated citizens who had to be registered with LocalCircles to participate in this survey.