Return of the night curfew in NYE week: Experts question rationale

The rationale behind night curfews has also been questioned as events continue to take place during the day.
Representational image of a night curfew in India amid the coronavirus pandemic
Representational image of a night curfew in India amid the coronavirus pandemic
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Several Indian states looking to curb celebrations on New Year’s Eve amid increasing cases of the Omicron variant have fallen back on an old measure — instituting night curfews. While states such as Karnataka, Kerala, and Delhi have mandated night curfews with varied timings, several businesses have voiced their opposition to governments for imposing restrictions at a time they are just recovering from the impact of the pandemic, and during one of the most profitable weeks of the year.

Incidentally, earlier this year, the then Union Health Minister said that night curfews do not work. “Physical distancing is an established non-pharmaceutical intervention to suppress the transmission of COVID-19,” he had said, adding that evidence has shown that “partial lockdowns such as night curfews or weekend lockdowns would not have much impact on transmission.”

However, the rationale behind night curfews has also been questioned as events continue to take place during the day. Renowned epidemiologist Dr Jayaprakash Muliyil told TNM that night curfews do not stop mass gatherings. “[The governments] have to be seen as doing something, and night curfews are probably the least bothersome. It doesn’t make any sense to me but it is the least bothersome of all curfews. I can’t see any reason why COVID-19 will only spread at night time and not daytime. I can’t figure out how they think about it,” he said. 

Experts continue to stress that there is only one way to truly curb the spread of the coronavirus — following mask mandates and avoiding crowds.

“Night curfews do not work against COVID-19 [and] Omicron; wear good quality three layered cloth mask or surgical mask, avoid crowds, get [the] second dose [of the] COVID-19 vaccine if not done, get a booster after January 10, if eligible. Talk to your doctor to know if you are eligible for [a] booster,” wrote Dr Prabhdeep Kaur, Senior Scientist and Deputy Director, Indian Council of Medical Research-National Institute of Epidemiology, Chennai, on Twitter. 

Other scientists too have stressed that night curfews alone will not help curb the spread when nothing changes during the day.

Public health expert and epidemiologist Dr Chandrakant Lahariya tweeted: “Every state which has announced night curfew for preventing COVID-19 should urgently and permanently disband their state COVID-19 Task Forces.  Either the C-19 task forces are not advising the governments right or the governments are not paying heed to their advice.” He also told Deccan Herald that such restrictions are not particularly useful in the Indian context. “A better measure would have been the imposition of Section 144 to reduce crowds, instead of having a blanket curfew,” he said.

However, according to Public Health Foundation of India Dr Srinath Reddy, one rationale to justify the night curfew could be that most people crowd indoors and not outdoors at night, and this could lead to greater spread of the virus, especially on events like New Year’s Eve. 

“In cooler weather, the airflow is less. Therefore, the virus does not disperse as easily as in warm weather, and tends to hang around in the air for longer, especially if it is indoors,” he said. As a public health professional, I would say crowding in indoor places are generally to be avoided,” he said. “However, my concern is that night curfew alone will not solve the problem unless you stop the big crowded events during the daytime,” he added.

For New Year’s Eve, night curfews may help in dissuading people gathering in large numbers to celebrate, but with no restrictions on places and events such as malls, theatres, and political rallies, experts point out there will be little impact on slowing or stopping the spread of the virus. 

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