Curbing of coronavirus infections demands more than hand washing

20Mar 2020
The Guardian
Curbing of coronavirus infections demands more than hand washing

CONTAINING the spread of the coronavirus pandemic is an urgent matter for the whole of humankind, with some countries having witnessed tragically high infection levels early, others being hit later and yet others not yet there but with no assurance of being spared.

As of mid-Wednesday, the World Health Organisation was talking of infections in more than 150 countries and self-governing territories, implying that the pandemic is now a truly worldwide phenomenon.

There were differences in the scale at which the disease was spreading but these were not of the sort to cheer up in the hope that some may escape it. Often, it is a question of when the first case strikes or contacts begin, etc.

Judging by what is happening in Europe and elsewhere, public authorities have made efforts to use disinfectants not just on doorsteps or in queuing up for some services but even in open spaces.

The reason for fumigating open spaces – not to speak of offices, where it isn’t possible to work from home – is that the coronavirus is devastating because it survives in the air on its own for a few minutes, some experts saying it can dwell unattached in the air for up to eight minutes, in the cold.

This aspect about coronavirus metabolism gives African countries the hope that its effect won’t be as devastating as it won’t get the propitious atmosphere of its being propagated by breathing where social contacts are unavoidable – for instance, in public transport.

When the virus is unattached and exposed to warm to hot weather, it more or less quickly melts, in which case the fact that Africa enjoys a generally warm climate said to be injurious to the fat coating of the virus is an aspect of hope.

But while this is ascertained by scientific analyses, much more care ought to be taken. Face masks and disinfectants are helpful, as is cutting down on social groupings, but not enough has been said about disinfectants in the air.

The washing of hands takes care of ‘viral dirt’ that one may already have on the hand and is a definitely useful precaution. Still, the most dangerous source of coronavirus infection is the air, when an infected person spreads contaminated air.

This is to say the preventive measures that are excellent for cholera and tuberculosis ought to be improved upon, as they may not be adequate or intense enough for a more insidious pandemic.

That is where innovation is needed because masks are helpful but aren’t airtight and therefore do not prevent air from moving around.

Masks help with the likes of odors and dust but not exactly with air, though they can prevent infection when the concentration of contaminated air is low and is thus filtered out in the air that the person with a mask shall breathe in or breathe out.

Therefore, it is also vital where possible, and especially for indoor social interaction like offices and even some gatherings which have not been proscribed, for spraying or fumigation to take place regularly.

Some disinfectants are admittedly too powerful for people to work alongside with and could therefore advisedly be applied at intervals, while softer ones can be routine.

The bottom line, though, is that these are generally affordable interventions easy to implement and can make a huge difference without people having to dig all that deep into their pockets to keep the risk of coronavirus and other infections at bay.