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

Indonesia seeks Saudi help over suspension of entry for Umrah pilgrimage

Hundreds of Umrah pilgrims were stranded at the Juanda International Airport in Sidoarjo, East Java province, after Saudi Arabia placed a temporary ban early Thursday. (AFP)
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Updated 27 February 2020

Indonesia seeks Saudi help over suspension of entry for Umrah pilgrimage

  • The government was trying to convince the Saudi authorities to allow the Indonesians already there to complete their pilgrimage
  • More than 1,100 pilgrims had left for Saudi Arabia on Thursday from Jakarta’s airport

JAKARTA: Indonesia’s foreign minister on Thursday urged Saudi Arabia to allow its citizens to continue their Umrah pilgrimage after hundreds were stranded at Jakarta airport when the kingdom suspended foreign entry for the Umrah over coronavirus concerns.
Indonesia is the world’s biggest Muslim-majority country and it often sends around 1 million people on the Umrah pilgrimage every year in the kingdom, which hosts the two holiest sites of Islam in Makkah and Medina.
The Saudi ministry of foreign affairs said in a statement that the suspensions were temporary but provided no timeframe for their expiry. It was unclear if the Hajj pilgrimage, which is scheduled to begin in late July, would be impacted.
“The immediacy of this will impact our citizens because at the time of the announcement, there are Indonesian citizens or maybe citizens of other countries who have flown there,” Indonesia’s foreign minister, Retno Marsudi, told reporters on Thursday.
The government was trying to convince the Saudi authorities to allow the Indonesians already there to complete their pilgrimage.

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More than 1,100 pilgrims had left for Saudi Arabia on Thursday from Jakarta’s airport, CNN Indonesia cited an official at Indonesia’s religious ministry as saying, while around 1,500 had been asked to postpone their trips.
TV footage showed hundreds of pilgrims, some dressed in uniforms provided by travel agents, stranded at Jakarta’s airport.
Joko Asmoro of the Association of Muslim Hajj and Umrah Organizers, told Reuters that 150,000 to 200,000 pilgrims could be impacted by the suspension over the next month.
Asmoro said organizers would reschedule flights for the pilgrims “until the Saudi government opens Umrah again.”
Saudi Arabia normally welcomes millions of Muslim visitors throughout the year, with a peak for the Hajj pilgrimage. It introduced a new tourism visa last October for 49 countries.
The country has had no cases of the coronavirus, but it has been spreading in some neighboring countries. Indonesia also has not recorded any cases.
President Joko Widodo said he respected the kingdom’s decision because “everything health-related is the Saudi government’s number one policy.”
But for many Indonesians preparing for the pilgrimage the news is potentially devastating.
Fitri Nur Arifenie, who is due to take part in the Umrah on March 23, said she was now worried her trip would be canceled.
“It’s heartbreaking because everything’s on schedule. I have long desired to go on the Umrah,” said Arifenie, who works for Korean trade promotion agency. “But what can you do? It’s for the good of others.”


Teenage boy dies in London after testing positive for coronavirus

Updated 31 March 2020

Teenage boy dies in London after testing positive for coronavirus

  • King’s College Hospital statement: Sadly, a 13-year old boy who tested positive for COVID-19 has passed away

LONDON: A 13-year-old boy in London who tested positive for coronavirus has died, a hospital said on Tuesday.
“Sadly, a 13-year old boy who tested positive for COVID-19 has passed away, and our thoughts and condolences are with the family at this time,” King’s College Hospital said in a statement.
“The death has been referred to the coroner and no further comment will be made.”