With the coronavirus becoming more and more real for Indians with each passing day, the excitement that generally accompanies Holi is somewhat diminished. The Rashtrapati Bhavan has cancelled its celebration and PM Modi has also said he will not be participating this year. As of March 5, 29 people had tested positive for the disease. The sudden spike is linked to a group of travellers from Italy, the European country with the highest number of cases.
The WHO has updated its estimation of the mortality rate to 3.4% and multiple reports have shown that human to human transmission is possible. Given these new developments, would it even be a good idea to play Holi this year? MyUpchar spoke with Dr Rommel Tickoo, Associate Director of Internal Medicine, and Dr Monica Mahajan, Medical Director, from Max Super Speciality Hospital, Saket to get their assessment of the situation.
Should we play Holi this year?
“I would advise against celebrating Holi this year,” Dr Tickoo said. “It’s not just about the festival though… I would advise against unnecessary trips to malls, bazaars, conferences, or any public spaces that are crowded. The infection can be transmitted by those exposed to the virus, and you can’t keep a track of all those you come across. The only thing you can do is lower the odds of getting the infection, so non-essential attendance in crowded places is discouraged. Holi is a social festival – large groups play together and it takes just one infected person to start off the transmission. It’s just not worth the risk,” he added.
Studies have shown that the incubation period of the virus is 2-14 days. Asymptomatic people can also spread the infection which is why social distancing and personal hygiene is important. So, if you have a large Holi gathering and go from house to house, you may increase your odds of getting the infection. This is also the reason many RWAs (resident welfare associations) and offices are cancelling society Holi celebrations. It might have been something you were looking forwards to, but at this time it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Dr Tickoo added that the virus shouldn’t cause panic in the country yet because the number of cases is small. However, people need to practice personal hygiene and not just preach it.
Dr Mahajan suggested
Dr Mahajan suggested that one can play Holi as long as it is within the family and no one has symptoms. “If the celebration is small and you are only playing with your family members and no outsiders, then there isn’t an increased risk of getting the novel virus. It is true that the virus can be transmitted without symptoms, but Holi doesn’t change that. On the other hand, if you are playing in a larger group, then I have some reservations. You can then increase your chances of getting the infection,” she reasoned.
So there is a consensus – if you do play, do so in a small group of people you encounter regularly. Avoid larger gatherings for the time being.
What are some precautions to take if you play?
“If you do decide to play, make sure that no one who is displaying signs of cold, or has a fever, is involved. If you are able, ensure that everyone you play with is not displaying symptoms. This method has a lot of limitations though – so fair warning,” Dr Tickoo recommended.
“I wouldn’t necessarily do anything much different this year. With Holi, there is a likelihood of getting skin allergies and eye infections because of the chemicals in synthetic colours, but medical advice for that is routine and is unrelated to the coronavirus,” Dr Mahajan said.
The doctors had some general advice as well. “While people may know how the disease is transmitted, there are gaps in compliance. I’ll find that patients will come to me and take off their masks and put them on the table. The virus can spread through surfaces this way, and also, if you are coughing and sneezing, don’t take your mask off – it is there to protect the people around you,” Dr Tickoo said when describing his patients.
Can being out in the cold make you more vulnerable to the infection?
The flu and related viruses are seasonal and there are spikes in winter months in India. However, it is not the cold that makes you sick – you need to come in contact with the virus to get an infection. The dryer air in the colder months has been linked to higher viral transmissibility as well, and scattered studies have shown that the immune system may be weakened at colder temperatures. So should you not play in cold water this Holi? It’s probably safer not to. And if you feel uncomfortably cold and are shaking, find a spot in the sun and dry off. While there are no black and white circumstances, these little steps may improve your odds of not catching a cold.
In summary, both the doctors thought that while the spike in cases is concerning, there is no need to panic yet and to comply with the basics of practising personal hygiene and maintaining distance from those who appear sick.