Computational biologist Akash Deep Biswas is working on the novel coronavirus main protease from home in Italy

Guwahati: Being in one of the deadly epicentres of the COVID-19 pandemic in Italy, a PhD scholar from Tezpur in Assam is urging everyone to follow the directions of physical isolation and home quarantine through short videos on his social media pages.

With an Assamese gamusa around his neck, Akash Deep Biswas has been releasing one “viral” video after another after witnessing the nonchalant attitude towards the coronavirus. “People are dying in numbers of 600-700 per day here in Italy. Take it seriously,” he said in one of the messages via his videos. He added that family members are not even allowed to visit the dead due the fear of contamination.

Some of the items that Akash Deep Biswas has stocked to survive the quarantine and lockdown amid COVID-19 pandemic in Italy

Team EastMojo reached out to the viral coronafighter and found out that he has been working from home for two weeks now. “I’m even working on the novel coronavirus main protease,” said the computational biologist who did his integrated master’s degree in biosciences and bioinformatics from the department of MBBT in Tezpur University. “I was a project junior research fellow in IIT Guwahati at the department of BSBE. Then, I moved to IIT Kanpur in the department of mechanical as a research project assistant. While I was working at IIT Kanpur, I won a full scholarship for SNS [Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa], Italy. I moved to the country in 2016,” he added.

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Biswas now plans to donate 100% of his salary for April to the health department of Italy. “Today, Italy is in a big health crisis, I have accepted scholarships from the Italian government every month for my PhD and I think it’s time for me to support the country,” he said.

A queue at a supermarket in Italy maintaining the 1-m distance

Being in the epicentre, the situation in Italy is quite tense, said the biologist. “The place where millions of people walk through the whole city every day has been empty for the past 20 days. Italian cities have become ghost cities,” he said, adding: “There are supermarkets in every locality where one can get everything in one place, so there is no problem regarding grocery items. However, we have to wait in a long queue maintaining a distance of more than a metre.”

Biswas is maintaining the utmost precautions to combat the dire situation. Regular cleaning aside — since he lives in a shared space with a flatmate — both of them make sure that the common areas are sanitised and cleaned. “While I use my bathroom, I use things and leave everything clean for the next user,” said Biswas, adding, “I don’t touch anything that my housemate uses and we also don’t see each other within the house. We are maintaining proper rules to dispose of materials.”

Biswas has been maintaining a regular time-table of work so that he is not affected mentally during the lockdown period. “Since I am working from my home, I have made it as my full-fledged office. I work, cook, eat, and keep things clean, talk to my family, friends, and sleep. I am not at all getting depressed or feeling low even for a moment being closed in a room since March 13,” said Biswas. Knowing the importance of maintaining a time-table is also imperative in times as these to keep mental peace, he said. Keeping in mind the greater good, the computational biologist also believes that remaining indoors can help break the chain of contamination.

Along with creating awareness videos, Akash Deep Biswas also plans to donate his entire scholarship for the month of April to the health department of Italy

Horrified by the stark difference in the following lockdown, Biswas said, “People here are very honest. If they are asked not to go out, they don’t do it unless it’s an emergency. They even try to find alternative ways to make do so as to reduce outside exposure.”

The main reason behind his informative videos, according to Biswas, was to showcase the terrifying reality of COVID-19, “something that people in the state [Assam] still takes very lightly. “Stay away from each other, avoid human contact and stay clean and confined in a house. Also, help each other while maintaining distance, help each other if someone is hungry. You need not go to the market and buy everything; buy whatever is required,” Biswas added.

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