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Coronavirus (COVID-19) update: Do browse official sources as your information avenues

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Authors: Kandarp N. Talati, Rajiv Kumar Gurjwar, Arvind R. Yadav

Coronavirus Pandemic has debilitated much of the world, and lockdown is becoming a norm to ensure physical distancing and contain the spread of contagious virus. Many of us might have witnessed curfew during the time of crisis, including the wars in 60’s and 70’s. But the lockdown in current situation is different, and the society seems to be finding it difficult to internalize the significance of home stay. Our social media accounts – WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram – are flooded with variety of information related to Coronavirus. And we actually don’t know what to believe and what not. We also don’t know which information is coming from official government, or least trustworthy, sources and which is simply a propaganda to spread misinformation or speculations.

As we are more tuned to the social media, browsing floods of information and sharing as per our personal preferences; it is equally important that we rely on certain official sources to keep abreast of latest happening related to the Coronavirus or SARS-CoV-2. It is also important to stick to these sources amid constantly changing narratives on various media and social media platforms. Even the guidelines are not well understood by people, and we observe police patrolling vehicles in our city of Vadodara, announcing the use of mask even by general public. We are sure, the way we see news clippings from across the country, masks seem to be worn by masses. On the contrary, the use of mask is required only for symptomatic/COVID-19 patients, their care givers, those who are quarantined and frontline health workers.

This article looks forward to provide an excerpt of online survey which we floated on the evening of Friday, March 20, 2020 and also to list down some government and trusted resources to keep abreast of Coronavirus and COVID-19 related updates.

Excerpt of an Online Survey:

We created a Google Form for an online survey to understand whether people are accessing Corona Virus related resources from the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW), Government of India website. Total 226 people have responded to this survey so far. About 61.50% respondents were from Gujarat, and 57.96% had post-graduate or higher qualification, as shown in Fig. 1 and Fig. 2, respectively.

Fig. 1: State of Respondent
Fig. 2: Education Level of Respondent

Initially, for 138 responses, >90% respondents self-reported that they have been accessing various resources from MoHFW website. We were astonished to see such an overwhelming response and interpreted it to be speculative in the sense, people might be coming across various resources but not necessarily from the MoHFW website. This interpretation was based on our own observations and following of social media accounts, where we did not come across official government resources to large extent.

Hence, we added a direct question asking, Since March 15, 2020, have you ever browsed / visited Out of 88 responses, 35 (40%) reported to have visited MoHFW website. Out of 226 responses, when asked about whether you have read COVID-19 related awareness material on MoHFW website, 159 (70.35%), 205 (90.71%), 159 (70.35%) and 118 (52.21%) reported that they have read Do’s and Don’t Poster, When to wear mask?, When to get tested for COVID-19?, and Posters for Indians traveling from abroad, respectively.

Hence, we thought that it might be really helpful to compile and suggest a list of official communication channels from the government, international agencies and reputed academic and non-profit organizations – to ensure that people have access to rightful information which will help them remain better informed and safeguard from unnecessary panic.

List of Government and International Resources: Official websites of Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW), Government of India and that of respective state health departments, for Instance Health and Family Welfare Department, Government of Gujarat. The MoHFW website is uploading various advisories and directives for citizens, hospitals, employees, ministries and states and also related to travel. The website also has awareness material for safety measures and also a comic book, KIDS, VAAYU & CORONA,  to provide correct information about COVID-19 to children. The YouTube channel of MoHFW is also uploading relevant information from time to time, and their COVID-19 Management playlist has about 38 videos. Unfortunately, in a country of 1.3 billion, this playlist has <70,000 views.  The latest video is on how to manage mental health and well-being during the #COVID19 outbreak.

Fig. 3: Screenshot of Awareness Material Section on MoHFW, GoI Website

Also the MyGov portal hosts a dedicated segment for COVID19, which lists helpline numbers, email, myth busters, activities, videos, infographics as well as information and advisory as is available on MoHFW website. The portal also invites ideas and suggestions to help fight #CoronaVirus and the COVID-19 solution challenge, with a deadline of March 31, 2020 and a chance to win up to Rs. One Lakh in rewards. In addition, +91-90131-51515 is the official WhatsApp business account of MyGov Corona Helpdesk, being powered by Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) and MoHFW through Haptik. One can simply send ‘Hi’ or any text, and will receive information on how to receive specific information by choosing specific options. Various state governments have also rolled out WhatsApp accounts for ensuring wider penetration of factual information among the masses. MyGov Corona Newsdesk, is Government of India’s official Telegram channel for communications regarding COVID-19. This channel has about 7.5 lakh subscribers, by the time we are writing this article.

Among international resources, one can certainly browse through the content available on the World Health Organization website, having dedicated link for Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) Pandemic. The portal provides quick dashboard, myth busters and easy to comprehend videos to understand the virus, its transmission and the pandemic. The WHO is also offering free course for Infection Prevention and Control (IPC) for Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19), in multiple international languages. WHO also offers official WhatsApp business account, through a phone number +41-798-931-892, which provides the latest information and guidance from WHO on the current outbreak of COVID-19. Those who want to look at the COVID-19 related data and statistics, can also visit Corona Virus Resource Center, by the Johns Hopkins University, USA, which enlists meaningful resources to guide a response, improve care, and save lives. Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) – Statistics and Research by Our World in Data compiles data from the European Centre for Disease Control, and offers an important resource to understand the disease, its spread and the severity.

We hope the list of resources will be helpful to stay tuned with latest happenings concerning the COVID-19 outbreak. Finally, we do take this opportunity to inform that we all can join the war against COVID-19 by being volunteers and making donations.

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