Like every medical emergency that arrives in India, the novel coronavirus too has come laden with the traditional baggage of myths and false information about its prevention and cure. To make matters worse, there have been reports of surging prices of face masks and hand sanitisers resulting in their scarcity. This speaks a lot about the national character where people are out to make money at the cost of the lives of their fellow countrymen.

Not to be left behind in any spectacle, some Hindutva politicians have reportedly come up with their time-tested solution to the corona problem (and any other) in the form of gaumutra, or cow urine and dung. There have been reports over the past week of a Hindutva group planning to organise gaumutra parties on the lines of tea parties. The idea being sold is that gaumutra can cure patients of the coronavirus, while performing havans with cow dung cakes can check its spread in the air.

If this weren’t enough, political-religious leaders are also trying to give a Hindu supremacist colour to even this malady, by pointing that only “the Hindu way” of greeting with a namaste can check the spread of the virus. A politician from the Hindutva fold went to the extent of saying that ‘Adaab’ or ‘Salaam aleikum’ works otherwise.

It is amid such a scenario that the Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research and Panjab University in Chandigarh have come out with a comic, to dispel many wrong notions about corona and make people aware without creating a panic. Although the comic ‘Kids, Vaayu and Corona: Who Wins the Fight?’ is aimed at empowering schoolchildren, it is equally informative for the adults.

The book revolves around questions rising in the minds of a group of children about the new coronavirus and the threat it poses, and a superhero Vaayu (god of wind) who dispels their fears and wrong notions.

The comic clearly advocates that people can greet each other in any of the traditional ways practised around the nation. It is handshakes and hugs that we need to avoid.

It says that “the mortality rate of Corona virus is 2%. This means if 100 people got infected with the virus, only two are likely to die. In the past we have seen SARS having a mortality rate of 10%, swine flu having mortality rate of 4.5 % and ebola even more.”

The message is clear: while people have to be careful, they should not panic.

Another important message is that everyone need not wear masks. It is only health workers attending to individuals with respiratory symptoms, people with a cough or difficulty breathing, and those providing care to individuals with respiratory symptoms who are required to wear masks.

For the rest of us the emphasis is mainly on hygiene, and washing one’s hands properly while maintaining social distance in public places.

A PGIMER spokesperson said, “From adults to children, most of the discussion these days is centred on Corona virus. They are making use of available media such as newspapers, social media, and television to make themselves aware. However, for children, especially those below the age of 14 years, Corona virus has become a cause of concern as they are not able to comprehend the talk and are getting worried.”

He said that the PGIMER and Panjab University developed the comic as a social responsibility while considering these concerns. It is the brainchild of Drs Ravindra Khaiwal and Suman Mor.

Khaiwal, who is additional professor of environment health at PGIMER, told The Citizen that he co-wrote the comic inspired by his own children's queries. “Parents should talk to their children and resolve their queries so they do not panic. However, sometimes parents might be busy and unable to resolve their questions.” Suggestions from children also helped make the book more tempting to read.

Mor, who is additional professor and chairperson of the Department of Environment Studies at Panjab University, said the department had been working on comics for air pollution awareness and the sudden outbreak of coronavirus inspired her to make use of the developed characters to fight the new threat. “The comic is designed for learning along with fun, to motivate children to be heroes of prevention by defeating corona and other infectious germs.”

PGIMER director Dr Jagat Ram disclosed that the union health ministry is planning to translate the book into various Indian languages, and it will soon be available in Hindi and Punjabi.

Meanwhile, 60 confirmed cases of Covid-19 have been reported in the country till now. Various preventive measures are being taken across the country. There are reports of the Indian government suspending all tourist visas till April 15.

The health ministry has also stated, “Indian nationals are strongly advised to avoid all non-essential travel abroad. On their return, they can be subjected to quarantine for a minimum of 14 days.”

On a lighter note, there are jokes on the coronavirus scare being shared across social media platforms. One of those having gone viral is, “Dear HR - I am suffering from coronavirus and request you to grant me paid leave for 20 days. Otherwise I will come to office…”

Another one goes, “Cancelled all my weekend plans because of this idiot Corona. I am staying home. Once this dumbass Corona virus goes away, then I will think of other reasons to cancel plans.”