Govt’s ‘behavioural change’ campaign to beat festive rush
The Narendra Modi government plans to launch as early as next week, a massive campaign to urge people to be cautious about their behaviour in the upcoming festive season that will see more social gatherings and outdoor activities amid the prevailing Covid-19 pandemic.
The campaign, according to officials involved in the planning who spoke on condition of anonymity, is likely to start from October 7, continue for at least three months, and cover the entire festive season including the New Year celebrations. The new campaign, which stresses on a change in behaviour, comes days after the government announced the conditional re-opening of schools and multiplexes from late October and also allowed open-air social and religious events to be held.
Union home minister Amit Shah held a meeting on September 28; attendees included Cabinet secretary Rajeev Gauba, Niti Ayog’s member health Dr VK Paul, secretaries of home affairs, health, information and broadcasting, rural development and panchayati raj .
According to people familiar with the proceedings who spoke on condition of anonymity Shah suggested that as people in large numbers will participate in the festivals, there is a possibility that the gains achieved in controlling the pandemic might be lost and that there is need for a campaign to remind people that they should be careful .
Shah added that to be effective, the campaign needs to be simple, such as the PM’s coinage of “do gaz ki doori” which a distance of two gaz. That’s around 6 feet.
Shah, the people added, said that campaigns that appeal to bureaucrats, might not be attractive for common people and suggested that the campaign’s taglines include key phrases such as Covid, suraksha (protection) and do gaz ki doori.
“It has been decided to tap places such as bank branches, anganwadi centres and post offices to spread the word around. Shah asked VK Paul to talk to hospital groups to support the campaign,” said one of the officials present at the meeting.
A second top official present in the meeting said, “it is absolutely essential to launch such a campaign as we have to take our battle against Covid to the next level. And already people are lowering their guard which is a dangerous thing to do now.”
A third official said that the cabinet secretary has since the meeting held two follow-up meetings,with government of India secretaries and chief secretaries of the state, to focus on the campaign. Information and broadcasting secretary Amit Khare has been entrusted with finalising the slogans for the campaigns, the people said.
The government has also indicated that there will be special emphasis on wearing masks in the campaign. Dr VK Paul, member of Niti Aayog and one of the key advisors to Modi on Covid, said in a press conference that the coming festive season will be all about masks— mask wali chhath, mask wali eid, mask wala dussehra aur mask wali diwali.
“This is all for our own good; and needs to be promoted big time. There is scientific basis to it. We don’t have to gather in groups; large gatherings must be totally avoided; and no big congregations should be allowed. Community heads should ensure and appeal that festivals should be celebrated with caution; not in large groups but smaller groups. Large gathering, especially in market places, could be detrimental, so we have to be careful,” said Paul, during the government’s weekly Covid-19 media briefing on Tuesday.
Experts agreed that public awareness campaign is crucial. “Wearing a mask, and wearing it properly, is as good as vaccine against Covid-19. It also helps reduce the viral load that may go in when you breathe in, which is why it’s essential to wear a mask,” said Dr Giridhara Babu, head, epidemiology, Indian Institute of Public Health, Public Health Foundation of India.