KOLKATA: A group of researchers from Ranbir and Chitra Gupta School of Infrastructure Design and Management (RCGSIDM) and Department of Civil Engineering, IIT Kharagpur has taken an initiative to carry out a study on travel perspectives of Indian citizens during the recent outbreak of COVID-19.

The research team analyzed more than 3,400 responses obtained from 400-plus cities in 28 states and 4 Union Territories of India. The database covers respondents from different segments of the society in terms of income groups, profession, and age groups.

The analysis of data over a period of seven days (March 16 to March 23) indicated that the share of respondents who opted to work from home increased steadily from less than 40% to above 75%. This a very positive trend indicating a reduction in work trips which will contribute significantly in arresting the spread of COVID-19 within cities.

Another positive note is that the study showed a significant share of respondents (i.e., over 30%) was aware of possible city quarantine and were getting prepared for it. The ‘Janata Curfew’ was a positive step for further awareness and preparedness about quarantine, and provided a doorway for implementation of lockdown in several states.

Researchers also observed that the awareness among the people about the risk of travel in public transport has increased over the time, possibly due to strong campaigns carried out by the Governments and wide coverage of COVID-19 cases by the media. Data reflects that while on March 17 only about 60% respondents were considering cancellation/postponing long-distance travel for various purposes (i.e., healthcare, work, family/social, and vacation), the share increased to 75% on March 22. Although this indicates a positive attitude, however, a significant share of respondents was still planning to travel which might increase the risk of spreading the virus.

It was alarming to note that nearly 20% respondents expressed their desire to leave the current city of work in case of the announcement of city lockdown.

“Such acts would increase the risk of spread of COVID-19 in other places and therefore, justify the action taken by the Government of India in terms of one day ‘Janata Curfew’ and successive lockdown of several cities and towns by various state governments,” said Bhargab Maitra, head of RCG School of Infrastructure and Design Management,

The study further reinforces the decisions to suspend inter-state train and bus services to limit the spread of COVID-19. The low awareness among a section of citizens and their travel behavior further establish the need for a lockdown of several towns in a densely populated state like West Bengal, and eventually, a strict decision of lockdown of the country as a whole not only to control the situation in COVID-19 affected cities or towns but also to arrest its spread in other areas for a greater societal cause.

The findings postulate the need for more stringent measures to restrict the movements even within the cities under lockdown to counteract the lack of awareness among a section of the society. It is now also necessary to boost the awareness campaign as many people might still be looking for an opportunity to travel and media can play a People Working From Home Since COVID-19 Outbreak big role by increasing their self-initiative with respect to awareness campaigns alongside publicizing the Government driven campaigns.

The study aims to Understand the travel behaviour of people and their perceptions during COVID-19 outbreak, assess the impact of travel restrictions on different aspects of life as per people’s perceptions, Understand respondents’ preparedness in case of a lockdown, Formulate and assess the likely effectiveness of different strategic interventions pertaining to travel for minimizing the spread of COVID-19, Formulate potential strategic interventions and policy measures for combating any future events of similar nature.

The research team designed a questionnaire for collecting online responses of citizens with respect to various aspects of their travel up to March 22 – before the announcement of lockdown in several Indian cities. The respondents’ were asked to provide details about their regular travel, travel characteristics during COVID-19 outbreak, their perception regarding safety against the spread of COVID-19 during travel by different modes, the impact of COVID-19 outbreak and travel restrictions on different aspects of their life, their travel plans in the case of a lockdown of cities and during the initial period once the travel restrictions are lifted, and demographic and socio-economic characteristics.

Based on the recent lockdowns and other efforts being taken by the Central and different state governments, the questionnaire has now been updated to understand the perceptions and reactions of the citizens under the current scenario and provide further inputs which might be of help to the Government to make further informed decisions.

The initiative was taken up by Saurabh Dandapat, Kinjal Bhattacharyya, Annam Sai Kiran, Kaustubh Saysardar, and the mentorship were taken up by Bhargab Maitra to help the research group in their initiative.

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