The entire world is right now going through a major pandemic of a disease known as COVID-19, caused by a coronavirus new to science that has been called SARS-CoV-2. This disease emerged in the city of Wuhan in China at the end of 2019 and has since spread to most countries in the world. As of March 22, 2020, around 275,000 thousand people have been infected and more than 11,000 have died, mostly the elderly and those already in weak health. As a result, lockdowns and states of emergencies are happening everywhere across the globe. It is believed that what is happening right now is the biggest global disruption since World War 2.
Within China, the outbreak is currently waning but it is just getting started in many other countries. That includes Pakistan. The contagion arrived here late, at the end of February, when two cases emerged of people who had just visited Iran, which is one of the worst-affected countries. 20 cases were confirmed by the second week of March. Now, 646 people are known to be infected in Pakistan. At the time of writing, https://tribune.com.pk/ (The Express Tribune) has a sticker on the side of their website stating such. Our healthcare system is already giving way under the pressure. Experts generally agree that it is up to the people, everybody, to take measures during this crisis and prevent or delay the spread of the disease.
That requires every person to be well-informed about this disease and what should be done. There have been pandemics before, including the 2009 swine flu which infected millions, but this is considered particularly serious because of how fast it is spreading and because the death rate for infected people is very high. COVID-19, often popularly referred to simply as the Coronavirus, is a respiratory disease that affects the lungs. When people are infected, it is usually around 5 days, but anywhere from 2 to 14 days, before symptoms appear. The virus attacks cells that make up the walls of the lung, usually causing coughing, fever, and shortness of breath, though some have no symptoms. In most cases, it manages to do little harm and tens of thousands have already recovered. But in around 20 percent of people known to be infected, mostly the elderly and those already in poor health, the infection worsens and causes pneumonia. In five percent of infected people, severe organ damage and multi-respiratory failure ensues, sending them into intensive care. The death rate is not clearly ascertained and is varying in time and place, but it is generally believed that between 2 to 4 percent of people known to be infected die. That includes nearly 15 percent of people over 80 years of age.
Infected people are most likely to be able to spread the virus to others when they are showing symptoms, although it can also happen as soon the person is infected. Spread of the virus usually happens by people coughing and sneezing, expelling liquid particles into the air that carry the virus. Other people might inhale the droplets or the droplets might land on surfaces and then other people who touch the surface pick up the virus, which can end up being transferred through the nose, eyes, or mouth. Research suggests the virus can survive outside the human body on surfaces for a few hours to a few days. One new study says it is a day on cardboard and a few days on smooth surfaces like plastic and stainless steel (sources: https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20200317-covid-19-how-long-does-the-coronavirus-last-on-surfaces, https://www.marketwatch.com/story/coronavirus-can-survive-up-to-3-hours-in-aerosols-and-up-to-3-days-on-some-surfaces-peer-reviewed-study-finds-2020-03-18?siteid=yhoof2&yptr=yahoo). Generally, people are at risk of contracting Coronavirus if they are in proximity to many other people and touch objects that lots of other people may have been touching.
Two things that people have to do are avoid catching the coronavirus and avoid spreading it to others, whether or not they know they have the disease. Those who are showing any symptoms of the disease must keep themselves isolated from other people. They should seek medical care, but they have to call a doctor instead of going to the hospital themselves. The government of Pakistan has just established a hotline, 1166, for people to call if they fear that they have COVID-19. People should always cover their faces when they sneeze or cough so that potentially infected droplets do not disperse into the air. They should use their elbows to cover their sneezes and coughs rather than their hands.
People who go out to high-risk areas are recommended to avoid touching their eyes, nose, and mouth with their hands. This is rather difficult advice to follow as most people do it without thinking, but try to get these habits under control. Whenever they can, people should wash their hands thoroughly as this will rid their hands of any Coronavirus that might be there. They should wash their hands thoroughly for 20 seconds, making sure that soap reaches every nook and corner of their hands and gets washed out. People can also carry hand sanitizers with them that contain at least 70 percent alcohol. To disinfect their hands of possible coronavirus, they should rub the sanitizer all over their hands until hands become dry.
People should also limit their contact with the rest of society. This is known as social distancing and is being recommended and even enforced by authorities worldwide wherever the contagion is becoming severe. When going out, you should stay at least six feet away from other people. Large gatherings are to be avoided. When the pandemic really gets into full swing in Pakistan, like it is in many other countries right now, life will have to become very different. People will have to stay home and only go out for the most essential reasons. To learn more, go to this article on the blog of US’s National Institutes of Health, To Beat Covid-19, Social Distancing is a Must, https://directorsblog.nih.gov/2020/03/19/to-beat-covid-19-social-distancing-is-a-must/.
The idea of wearing a clinical facemask is very popular right now. These are meant to prevent small particles in the air from entering people’s nose and mouth and that includes coronavirus-carrying respiratory droplets. But it is not very important for ordinary people to do so. If everybody stockpiles on facemasks, it will create a mask shortage which could make masks unavailable to the people who really need them, people who are already sick and people who expose themselves to high risk of contracting coronavirus. If you are already infected with COVID-19, wearing a facemask means that when you sneeze and cough, the droplets you expel will mostly gather on the mask instead of contaminating the outside world. People like healthcare workers or family members of infected people must also have access to these masks, and a lot of them because masks have to keep being discarded, at all times to minimize the danger they are in. Everyone else should avoid getting too many masks.
Speaking of which, a lot of people are doing panic buying in response to the pandemic, but this is causing shortage of supplies. People should not buy more than what they really need in order to ensure that everybody gets what they need. The lockdown in China has mostly ended after two months. If quarantine has to be imposed on Pakistan, perhaps a similar amount of time is going to be how long people have to avoid going out, so prepare for this scenario.
There is no cure for COVID-19 yet, but people who are infected can increase their odds with medical treatment, like respirators to help the critically ill breathe. This means that the biggest problem with the pandemic is that too many people are getting sick at once for nations’ healthcare systems to handle. If we slow the spread of the disease, then even if the same number of people get infected eventually, their chances of survival will improve dramatically. This is what people mean by our current rallying cry of “Flatten the curve”. We must do everything we can to prevent this virus from spreading rapidly. That includes making sacrifices like staying at home and giving up on socialization for the time being.
It is very important to be well-informed. This is a rapidly progressing pandemic, so we need to know what is going on by the hour. This is also a disease new to the world, which means scientists are constantly learning more about it and how to cope with it. So stay tuned to the news, preferably of the electronic kind, as buying newspapers to read could be dangerous under these circumstances. But watch out for misinformation, as a huge amount of it is spreading around. Seek authentic and verified sources.
The top source for the world on COVID-19 info is the website for the World Health Organization (https://www.who.int/). Go to https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019 and look for their technical guidance, https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/technical-guidance, and the latest situation report, https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/situation-reports. For those who want to know more about the pandemic, Our World in Data has comprehensive and constantly updated information on the pandemic (https://ourworldindata.org/coronavirus). News agencies all over the world are now putting all their focus on the pandemic. Almost every piece of news you can read nowadays, especially on the international news agencies, relates to COVID-19 in some way. One particularly relevant news source is the New Humanitarian (formerly IRIN News), https://www.thenewhumanitarian.org/, dedicated to reporting on humanitarian emergencies.
As for the situation in Pakistan, the premier web source is http://covid.gov.pk/. It presents comprehensive up-to-date information on the current crisis in a very easily accessible format. You can also go on to Ministry of National Health Services, Regulations, and Coordination, http://nhsrc.gov.pk/, and the National Disaster Management Agency, http://www.ndma.gov.pk/. There is also website for National Institute of Health, https://www.nih.org.pk/. It may not be loading right now. Here is a cached webpage for their National Action Plan for COVID-19 (Pakistan), https://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:z9r_m2m6d0MJ:https://www.nih.org.pk/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/COVID-19-NAP-V2-13-March-2020.pdf+&cd=13&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=pk.
There are many popular educational sources on the internet that can help people understand the coronavirus crisis. One of the best is SciShow on YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/scishow). It already has made three videos on the emergence of COVID-19. YouTube channels It’s Okay to be Smart (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCH4BNI0-FOK2dMXoFtViWHw) and Kurzgesagt – In a Nutshell (https://www.youtube.com/user/Kurzgesagt) have each made one video on the pandemic already which explain the situation very well. More videos are likely to be coming. Another good YouTube channel to turn to is Healthcare Triage, https://www.youtube.com/user/thehealthcaretriage.
Everybody in Pakistan must be awake to this crisis and take the necessary measures as soon as they can. The storm has only just begun. The worst is about to arrive and we must get ready. Stay safe, and may God be with us.
(More coverage of the current pandemic will be coming)