This blog was written by Ashley Chin, BSc, a PhD candidate in the Division of Experimental Medicine at McGill University and Montreal…
About the author: Dr. Sai Krishna Gudi is a Ph.D. research scholar at the College of Pharmacy, Rady Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Manitoba, Canada, whose current research looks at the Utilization, Effectiveness and Safety of Direct-acting Antivirals for the treatment of Hepatitis-C in Manitoba. His research areas of interest include Evidence-Based Medicine, Pharmacoepidemiology and Outcomes Research, Elements of Clinical Pharmacy and Pharmacy Practice. Follow Dr. Gudi on Twitter @SaiKGudi
In a short span, Coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) has captured global consciousness by significantly affecting the day-to-day life of people and emerged as a public health emergency. Undoubtedly, it indicates that lessons learnt from the past epidemics of coronavirus such as the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), was not enough and thus left us ill-prepared to deal with the challenges that the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic is currently posing. So what has this outbreak taught us and what lessons are worth implementing in the future.
COVID-19 and Universal Safety Precautions
Washing hands is the first line of defence against viruses such as coronavirus, and fear of contractingCOVID-19 has significantly contributed towards maintaining personal hygiene of the individuals. Practicing good hygienic measures in hospitals, schools and other public places, could drastically reduce the spread and thereby eliminate new cases. Governments and other organizations have succeeded in promoting the universal safety precautions such as washing hands, covering the nose and mouth while coughing and sneezing, use of sanitizers, use of facemasks, avoiding contact of fingers with mouth, nose and eyes, and physical-distancing techniques to a remarkable extent. Several places around the world are currently short of hand sanitizers and facemasks, which shows the extent of the public’s interest in acquiring supplies for these universal precautions.. Furthermore, in many countries, efforts are in place to demonstrate proper handwashing and mask usage techniques. Physical distancing is a sage practice and an obvious action to be followed during outbreaks for preventing the spread of disease by confining the interaction of individuals and groups. Unfortunately, in China, physical distancing measures were not in place until it was too late; as a result, hospitals were filled to capacity and a rapid transmission was observed, which had led to a steep spike in newer infections. Later, with a goal of flattening the curve, Chinese health authorities implemented the non-pharmacological measures such as physical distancing, which showed a significant impact in limiting the spread. A recent modelling study has predicted that if physical distancing measures had been implemented one week, two weeks, and three weeks earlier in China could have reduced number of new cases by 66%, 86%, and 95%, respectively. Furthermore, a New York Times model for the United States has suggested that aggressive physical distancing measures could reduce COVID-19 cases from a possible peak of 9 million to 513,000 and cumulative deaths from 982,000 to 51,000 over the next few months. Similarly, adopting the community mitigating measures such as physical distancing, countries like South Korea, which experienced a severe outbreak in its initial days, is remarkably declining its epidemic curve.
Preparedness among Government Bodies
COVID-19 has prepared the government bodies in planning and implementing various measures around the world in better assisting their communities during this crisis. Almost every country is trying its best to keep the disease at bay to avoid repeating the nightmares of SARS and MERS. For instance, China enforcing a ‘round the clock closed management’ system, Italy declaring a ‘red zone’ alert, France announcing a ‘nationwide ban on gatherings’, and the U.S implementing ‘containment areas’ which are just a few mentions of what different countries are doing to cease the spread. In addition, to avoid panic and misinformation, measures are in place in enhancing the transparency between government bodies and the public, which can help in educating citizens on the risks of transmission. So far, the experiences of COVID-19 are raw, visceral, and could be considered as a rehearsal. This pandemic has clearly shown governments their strengths and weaknesses regarding their healthcare systems in responding to the outbreaks. For instance, being one of the most leading countries in healthcare, Italy is unsuccessful in limiting the spread of COVID-19; while, countries like Singapore, Hong Kong and Taiwan have been hailed for the measures taken to combat the COVID-19 and succeeded in keeping their morbidity and mortality rates lower despite their stronger links to China. Of note, Taiwan, a country on China’s doorstep, managed to contain COVID-19 by building its public health infrastructure that could be launched during an emergency. They also established a Central Epidemic Command Center that responds to epidemics, biological pathogens, bioterrorism and medical emergencies.
Lessons Learned by the Healthcare Sectors
This outbreak has also prepared the healthcare sector in tackling the situations. Preparation is key, and it should be a major lesson to be learned from COVID-19. Hospitals in the United States are implementing disaster readiness and just-in-case scenario plans, as hospitals will not be notified in advance by a possible coronavirus case. Also, they are stocking up on equipment and personal protective supplies, including gowns, eye protection and masks. While the risk of COVID-19 to the public is on the rise day-by-day, hospitals are not taking chances and are doing drills for worst-case scenarios. Thus, they are getting ready by setting up quarantine centers, preparing for the extra beds in accommodating the patients, facilitating for infection control, ordering more medical supplies in advance, and organizing cross-departmental emergency response committees. China has built two hospitals that have around thirty intensive care units and hundreds of beds in a span of few days to combat the fast-spread of the virus would be a prime example of worth mentioning. However, this is not the case in certain countries especially the United Kingdom, where there is a shortage of general practitioners and hospitals are underequipped. Furthermore, the UK also lacks enough number of beds and personal protective equipment for the use of healthcare staff, while dealing with the patients during this COVID-19 crises.
Consequences of COVID-19 on Employment and Education
During this crisis, many private sector industries, especially software companies have shifted their work routine from office-based to home-based and requesting their employees to work from home using modern technologies such as, video conferencing, VPN systems and cloud-based filings. While, some companies have adopted a tag team method where groups of employees will take turns in coming to the office. Thinking optimistically, following such measures would, in fact, let employers as well as employees aware of the advantages and disadvantages of flexible work environments. Also, such practices save natural resources such as gas, petrol, diesel, and thus prevent traffic and pollution. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) satellite images of China show drastic drop-off in their pollution rates related to COVID-19 shutdown is one such prime example.
Schools and colleges around the world have also switched from classroom-based to online-based to abide by physical-distancing recommendations in preventing the wide-spread of this pandemic. In developed countries like the U.S and Canada, all the provincial and private universities have cancelled the classes and are making use of virtual mediums. In addition, COVID-19 is a reality check and a great exercise to reassess the quality and capabilities of every country’s medical research sectors.
COVID-19 and Food Habits
Based on the investigations and research findings, it was reported that the COVID-19 pandemic has emerged from the bats in a live seafood & meat market in Wuhan, China. This has taught the public a great lesson regarding appropriate cooking and food habits, and how they can lead to such disease crises like COVID-19. Correspondingly, the Chinese government is set to ban the trade and consumption of live wild animals as food, as the virus is believed to have spread from animals to humans, and scientists also have shown that eating slaughtered animals might be the cause of such outbreaks as COVID-19.
In a nutshell, this pandemic has reiterated the importance of a saying ‘an ounce of prevention is better than the cure’ and has psychologically prepared mankind to battle and combat this pandemic. It has also revealed weak points in how we think about health and disease preparation. Coronavirus is not only a curse; but it is also a chance to improve our facilities and health care infrastructure and above all, to learn how to be more ready for the next crisis.
Gudi SK, Tiwari KK. Preparedness and Lessons Learned from the Novel Coronavirus Disease. Int J Occup Environ Med. 2020; 11(2):108-112. doi:10.34172/ijoem.2020.1977