While your fears are understandable, it is possible to be kind without putting yourself at risk.

Health workers wearing personal protective equipment suits conduct door to door COVID-19 thermal screening in MumbaiImage for representation/PTI
Coronavirus Tuesday, July 07, 2020 - 17:20

In the few months of the pandemic, we have come across many instances of people with COVID-19 facing discrimination and ostracisation from their neighbours or those living in their vicinity. One of the reasons behind this hostility towards COVID-19 patients as well as those working with them, like frontline workers, is fear. Panic about trying to protect oneself and loved ones from something invisible as well as the uncertainty of the times is testing our social fabric.

However, there are ways that you can be a good neighbour to a coronavirus patient, without putting yourself at risk.

Read: Amid fear and uncertainty, the pandemic is testing our social fabric

Help them with food, groceries and essentials

If you have someone in your neighbourhood who has been found to be coronavirus positive, they and/or their family will have to be in home quarantine. It is possible that those living on their floor in a residential complex or in an adjacent house will also have to self-isolate at home as a precaution. This means that they will not be able to step out to buy groceries or any other essentials.

At this time, instead of blaming your neighbours or cutting off ties with them, help them out by picking up essentials for them like groceries, household materials and medicines when you do your own errand run or add their requirements in your own online order. Step out to run errands only if you are healthy and do not fall into a high-risk category for coronavirus yourself. You could drop these items at the affected person/family’s doorstep. That way, you don’t even have to interact with the family or the patient.

If the patient or family needs it, you could arrange with them to drop off cooked meals in disposable containers at their door.

This will also lessen the need for the affected patient(s) and family to step out to buy these items, thus further reducing the risk of transmission from them.

You could also do this for any elderly, disabled or other high-risk persons living in your community or colony, reducing the need for them having to step outside to grocery, medical or other shops. This, in turn, will reduce the risk for those living in the vicinity – including yourself – from being exposed to coronavirus.

Take appropriate precautions

This goes without saying, but take proper precautions such as wearing a snug-fitting mask that covers your nose and mouth, and not interacting with the patient(s) or those in home quarantine in person. Don’t visit each other’s houses, and even if you must interact in person, maintain an appropriate physical distance of six feet while wearing masks.

Also wash your hands with soap and water after you come back from dropping off groceries, food or other essential supplies; and especially if you have been in an elevator, touched surfaces in any common areas, common walls, areas, door knobs, etc. Do not use the mask again without washing it with detergent and water if it is a reusable one.

Check up on them virtually

We know from multiple reports now that having someone in the family who has coronavirus can be extremely stressful. Even if the patient is in the hospital, the family will be confined to their homes, burdened with uncertainty and fear.

It’s helpful at this time to check up on your neighbours or community members virtually via instant messaging apps, video calls or just a phone call, if both parties are okay with it. Ask them how they are doing and if they need anything. These small gestures can make an affected family/person feel supported and less lonely in their experience.

And of course, you won’t expose yourself to the virus by speaking on the phone!

Stigmatising the patient and their family increases risk

Stigma is also one of the major reasons that people do not report if they have symptoms and do not disclose their travel history, and that increases the risk of transmission. It could also result in affected persons being unable to seek treatment, causing them to fall sicker than they would otherwise have, and in some cases, increase the risk to their life.

Read: Fear of stigma keeping people away from fever clinics in Chennai

“Despite all precautions, if anybody catches the infection, it is not their fault. In a situation of distress, the patient and the family need support and cooperation. It must be noted that the condition is curable and most people recover from it,” says the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.

National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) guidelines state the same – it can happen to anyone. NDMA also says that you should encourage the neighbours to call the local COVID-19 helpline or the national helpline, or do so yourself if they refuse.

“Have a compassionate dialogue with the family; assure them of help and attend to necessary assistance without physical contact”, NDMA adds.

It helps to remember that if you were ever to contract COVID-19, you would need all the help you could get from the community. You wouldn’t want to be blamed or stigmatised and left to fend for yourself while you or someone in your home is grappling with the disease. 

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