Opinion

Good hygiene key to preventing spread of coronavirus

Good hygiene key to preventing spread of coronavirus

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Premier Li Keqiang of China, center, speaks to medical workers at Jinyintan hospital in Wuhan. (Reuters)

China has said the coronavirus outbreak is its worst health emergency and, with Italy and Iran’s latest news, plus the spread to other countries, the medical implications are being weighed up across the board.

Unsurprisingly, the transmission of unreliable information across social media is, at times, irresponsible. Medical professionals are most concerned by disinformation regarding the origins of COVID-19. The pathogen’s spread and its impact on global health and well-being are notable, but also important are concerns over mental health and stigma. 

Medical scientists who specialize in pandemics, public health professionals and medical professionals are pointing out that China, in particular, is working diligently and effectively to rapidly identify the pathogen behind this outbreak, put in place significant measures to reduce its impact, and share the results transparently with the global health community. This effort is ongoing and it should be noted that almost 2,000 Chinese medical workers have been infected by COVID-19, and some have died.

The rapid, open and transparent sharing of data on this outbreak is now being threatened by rumors and misinformation surrounding its origins. Scientists are strongly condemning conspiracy theories suggesting that COVID-19 does not have a natural origin. Scientists from multiple countries have published and analyzed genomes of the causative agent and concluded that this coronavirus originated in wildlife, as have many other emerging pathogens. It’s called nature.

Nature’s outbreak is raising questions among the medical community regarding best practices to control the spread, given there is no vaccine and the effectiveness of antiviral medicine is unproven. What needs to be done is better hygiene in terms of public health measures and etiquette, such as staying at home when taken ill and washing hands. To be sure, the outbreak confronts front-line clinicians and public health authorities and these groups must work together to educate the public by providing accurate and up-to-date information, and by taking care of patients with respiratory illness in a timely and effective manner. Meanwhile, the public is going to have to help with awareness through community outreach.

Medical professionals are asking if a respiratory virus that is both transmissible and severe can be contained. In preparation for an influenza pandemic, for example, the US Department of Health and Human Services’ Pandemic Influenza Plan includes a combination of non-pharmaceutical (border and school closings, infection control measures) and pharmaceutical (antiviral prophylaxis and vaccines) interventions, which are meant to be used in combination to interrupt or slow transmission. Despite the implementation of some of these interventions, the 2009 swine flu H1N1 pandemic spread to 120 countries in three months.

The same medical professionals also ask: Is the world ready for a respiratory virus with high transmissibility and severity? After the 2013 avian flu H7N9 was identified in China, modeling articles described the effect of, and level of preparedness for, a severe, single-wave pandemic in the US. In scenarios that used clinical attack rates without a vaccine, school closures would be unlikely to affect what now includes asymptomatic transmission.

Doctors with experience in the emergence of Middle East respiratory syndrome are part of the effort to tackle COVID-19 as the disease spreads in parts of the Gulf. They bring knowledge of isolation techniques and medical treatment for those infected, as well as preparedness plans that include a surveillance plan, laboratory testing, and contact tracing guidance. Infection control guidance was developed for use in health care settings and traveler guidance. Remember, this disease is about the spread and radius of the infection. 

In the US, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is sending test kits so states can test samples from people who are suspected to be infected. For now, the CDC has opened a second lab and is working out further distribution. Stocking up on hospital worker protection equipment to keep people safe if they have to attend to patients infected with COVID-19 is ongoing because of the infection spread and rate. This cold spreads through droplets from coughing, sneezing or anything that aerosolizes the COVID-19. Doctors are also considering the so-called attrition rate among their own staff during the infection spread. Their conclusion is that there needs to be an adequate plan of rotation on this front.

Medical professionals are asking if a respiratory virus that is both transmissible and severe can be contained.

Dr. Theodore Karasik

As is typical, physician practices and hospitals are seeing an uptick in flu cases. To combat this, patients are told to follow time-tested preventive habits. The basics around prevention are always important, beginning with staying away from people who are sick and telling parents to keep sick children home from school. Furthermore, medical professionals say that wearing a mask will derive little benefit. The CDC does not recommend that people wear face masks to protect themselves from respiratory viruses, including COVID-19.

Overall, medical professionals are on the front line on a number of different fronts fighting COVID-19, so that the treatment phase of the spread will be methodically thought out and that the campaign is sustained during the course of the illness spread, which may be up to a year, depending on the best practices.

  • Dr. Theodore Karasik is a senior adviser to Gulf State Analytics in Washington, DC. Twitter: @tkarasik
Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News' point-of-view

UAE suspends flights to and from Iran over coronavirus outbreak

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Dubai International Airport, the world’s busiest for international travel, has limited flights to Iran over the outbreak of the new coronavirus. (AFP file photo)
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A picture taken on Feb. 24, 2020, shows a view of a hotel in the Kuwaiti capital where Kuwaitis returning from Iran are quarantined and tested for coronavirus COVID-19. (AFP)
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A picture taken on Feb. 24, 2020, shows a view of a hotel in the Kuwaiti capital where Kuwaitis returning from Iran are quarantined and tested for coronavirus COVID-19. (AFP)
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Updated 25 February 2020

UAE suspends flights to and from Iran over coronavirus outbreak

  • Kuwait says coronavirus cases have risen to eight
  • Bahrain reports six new cases, all patients transited Dubai from Iran

DUBAI: The United Arab Emirates on Tuesday has suspended all cargo and commercial flights to and from Iran for one week over the outbreak of the new coronavirus.

The decision, which could be up for extension, was a precautionary measure undertaken by the UAE to ensure strict monitoring and prevention of the spread of the new coronavirus, the UAE’s General Civil Aviation Authority said.

Dubai has been screening passengers on incoming flights from China, where the outbreak began. Long-haul carriers Emirates and Etihad are among the few international airlines.

UAE authorities earlier also called on citizens to avoid travel to Thailand ‘until further notice’ as a precaution against the virus outbreak.

Iraqi health officials on Tuesday banned the entry of travelers coming from Thailand, South Korea, Japan, Italy and Singapore.

Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman and Iraq reported their first cases of the China coronavirus on Monday as Gulf countries moved to stop an outbreak in Iran from spreading.

Kuwait on Tuesday said diagnosed cases have risen to eight, including two female passengers arriving from the Iranian city of Mashhad, a 53-year-old Kuwaiti man, a 61-year-old Saudi citizen, and a 21-year-old stateless Arab.

The country also banned flights to and from Iraq, Italy, South Korea, and Thailand, according to Kuwait's state news agency, KUNA.

Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Health said it was coordinating with Kuwaiti health authorities to treat the Saudi national, adding that the patient would remain in Kuwait until they were cured.

Saudi Arabia’s embassy in Kuwait said the condition of the Saudi citizen is stable and he is in no danger.
The statement also called on citizens to follow the instructions issued by the Kuwaiti health ministry and contact the embassy in the event of an emergency.




Kuwaiti special forces wearing protective masks are seen at the entrance to a hotel where people evacuated from Iran are being held in quarantine, in Fahaheel, Kuwait Feb. 24,2020. (Reuters)

Bahrain said two people had the virus diagnosed after arriving from Iran and travelling through Dubai.

The first patient “was transferred to the Ebrahim Khalil Kanoo Medical Centre for immediate testing, treatment and isolation under the supervision of a specialized medical team,” Bahrain News Agency said. The school bus driver, had worked on Sunday, dropping off children at schools, that were later closed down.

The second patient, a Bahraini woman was examined as she arrived at Bahrain International Airport having traveled through Dubai. Her husband and her sister-in-law, who were traveling with her, tested negative for the virus but were also placed in quarantine.

Bahrain also suspended flights to and from Dubai International Airport and Sharjah International Airport for 48 hours, Bahrain News Agency said early Tuesday.
Oman’s health ministry said its first two cases are Omani women who had visited Iran. Oman TV said the women were in a stable condition, it added.
Oman suspended flights to and from Iran, the Public Authority of Civil Aviation (PACA) said.
At least 250 people arriving from countries affected by coronavirus were quarantined on suspicion of infection, Oman’s Minister of Health Dr. Ahmed bin Mohammed Al-Saidi said.
Iraq, which on Monday also reported its first case of the virus, has shut its Safwan border crossing with Kuwait to travelers and trade at Kuwait's request, the local mayor said on Monday.

Opinion

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The outbreak in Iran forced the government there to dismiss one lawmaker’s claim the toll could be as high as 50.
The cases have prompted travel bans from nearby countries trying to stem the spread of the coronavirus.
Last week, Kuwait banned entry of all ships from the Islamic republic and suspended flights to and from the country.
Kuwait also banned non-citizens coming from Iran from entering the Gulf state and operated chartered flights to bring back hundreds of Kuwaiti Shiite pilgrims.
Around a third of Kuwait’s 1.4 million citizens are Shiites, who travel regularly to Iran to visit religious shrines. Kuwait also hosts roughly 50,000 Iranian workers.
Over half of Bahrain's population are Shiites, who also travel frequently to Iran.
The UAE has already announced 13 cases of the coronavirus, all of them foreigners. The latest were a 70-year-old Iranian man, whose condition is unstable, and his 64-year-old wife.
UAE airlines have suspended most flights to China – where the virus first emerged in December – except to the capital Beijing. Around half a million Iranians live and work in the UAE.
Saudi Arabia remains free of the virus, but has suspended flights to China.
Qatar Airways said on Monday that people arriving from Iran and South Korea would be asked to stay in home isolation or a quarantine facility for 14 days.


Israel sends army to ultra-Orthodox city over coronavirus

Updated 03 April 2020

Israel sends army to ultra-Orthodox city over coronavirus

  • Authorities have enforced restrictions on access to Bnei Brak, a majority ultra-Orthodox city near Tel Aviv
  • Many ultra-Orthodox Jews have refused to comply with confinement measures and social distancing

JERUSALEM: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday gave the green light for soldiers to be deployed in a mostly ultra-Orthodox Jewish city seen as the center of Israel’s novel coronavirus outbreak.
“In light of the special situation in Bnei Brak following the restrictions due to the coronavirus, the IDF (army) will immediately present the necessary civil assistance to Bnei Brak municipality in fulfilling its responsibilities,” Netanyahu’s office said after talks with security and health officials.
Authorities have enforced restrictions on access to Bnei Brak, a majority ultra-Orthodox city near Tel Aviv that is home to around 200,000 people.
More than 7,000 cases of COVID-19, including 36 deaths, have been officially declared in Israel.
According to local media, half of those infected are ultra-Orthodox Jews, a community which represents only around 10 percent of the Israeli population.
Many ultra-Orthodox Jews have refused to comply with confinement measures and social distancing.
This week has seen tense exchanges as police stepped up patrols of ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods that have become virus hot spots.
Army spokesman Jonathan Conricus said the military would deploy 800-1,000 soldiers in Bnei Brak to “assist” local authorities “because of the severity of the situation there and because of the relative lack of implementation of health ministry instructions.”
Soldiers will help distribute food and medicine and assist with the evacuation of people with virus symptoms, Conricus told an online conference call with reporters.
He said the army would also seek to ensure health messages were reaching the ultra-Orthodox community.
Motti Ravid, director of Mayanei Yeshua hospital in Bnei Brak, told AFP earlier this week that with Internet and television prohibited in the ultra-Orthodox community on religious grounds, government directives took a long time to filter through.
Even for those using mobile phones, access to the Internet and most message services is blocked, shutting them off from the main form of communication used by the health ministry.
Conricus said soldiers would wear orange and most of them would not carry weapons.
He said he anticipated there would be misunderstandings and frustrations among the community, but “we are taking that into consideration.”
Netanyahu himself re-entered precautionary quarantine this week after Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, a leading member of the ultra-Orthodox community, tested positive for COVID-19.