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Covid-19 and community mitigation strategies in a pandemic

BMJ 2020; 368 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.m1066 (Published 17 March 2020) Cite this as: BMJ 2020;368:m1066

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COVID-19 : Social Distancing Should Not Lead to Social Isolation

Social distancing is the new buzz word with the outbreak of corona virus and COVID-19. The tiny viral particle that scientists will struggle to see it with the best of ordinary microscopes, yet it has really created a havoc throughout the world. It has caused man’s life literally to go ‘upside down’. The corona scare has made us think differently and plan differently. It has changed the way we work, the way we socialize or entertain ourselves in our free time.

While many countries are being locked down, flights are grounded, travel restrictions are applied, and the tourism industry has come to a virtual halt. Businesses small or big have suffered major losses, which has led to overall poor economic health. Schools and colleges are shut, examinations have been cancelled, which has left students, teachers and parents in uncertainty. Sources of entertainment and outdoor activities are limited, while shopping destinations are deserted.

Many are advised to work from home while many are housebound with no other choice. Individual priorities, choices and preferences are at stake. Everyone is a victim of their own current circumstances.

People were already fearful and in panic due to the threat of this new corona virus and COVID-19 and their related threat on physical health. Largely, these have also resulted from inaccurate and false information about the negative impact of this viral illness. There a lot of myths and claims going viral on social media as well as in print media.

While much of focus has been on the negative impact on physical health, it is also time to evaluate the negative impact of this on social as well as mental health. It is being recognized that many people are having symptoms of anxiety, depression, boredom, sleeplessness and various mood disorders. There is not much intervention to investigate this nor are there guidelines issued in this regard.

Nevertheless, as healthcare professionals we must advise the public that despite the social distancing and being almost or totally house bound, they should still engage in healthy and social activities. Whilst the gym and sporting facilities are closed, people can still choose to do physical exercises or choose some healthy physical activities to engage in whilst at home. One can watch their favorite movie on the television whilst the cinema halls are closed. One has more opportunity to spend quality time with their family and loved ones which they could not manage earlier due to time constraints and work schedules. One can read a book which he or she had been planning for a long time but never found the time the time to do so. One can pick up the phone and give a call to a friend or family member who they have not spoken to for years together.

While we are maintaining social distancing, let this not lead to social isolation.

Competing interests: No competing interests

24 March 2020
SYED S M RAZA
Cardiologist and Physician
Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh
AWALI HOSPITAL, BAHRAIN