Dr. Patrick Tang, Division Chief of Pathology Sciences at QF member Sidra Medicine, on why protecting ourselves against COVID-19 also means protecting others.
How worried should people in Qatar, and beyond, be about coronavirus?
At this point, it is very unlikely that we will be able to eliminate coronavirus (COVID-19) without the help of a vaccine. It will eventually become one of the regular cold and flu viruses that infect humans every year. The good thing is that it does not seem to be too deadly, and most people will have mild infections from the virus.
However, we need to be very careful not to let it spread too fast and cause too many people to be sick at the same time. If they are, the healthcare system in any country, no matter how well resourced it is, will be overwhelmed. When a healthcare system is overwhelmed, there will be increased deaths from many other diseases, not just from COVID-19, because doctors and nurses will not be able to take care of so many patients at the same time.
People need to educate themselves about the measures that their governments are taking to protect them, and the personal measures that they can adopt.
For people who live in countries where COVID-19 is not currently spreading within the community, we need to take this time to prepare. People need to educate themselves about the measures that their governments are taking to protect them, and the personal measures that they can adopt to protect themselves and those around them from catching respiratory infections.
So what measures do we need to make sure we all take?
First, people must follow the travel rules and quarantine rules for their country and the countries to which they may be traveling to. Second, they must follow any local rules issued by their public health authorities. The public might be tired of hearing the same messages about not going to work or school when they are sick, but the reason why we have outbreaks is because many sick people don’t follow this rule.
We need to address the system that discourages people from staying home when they are sick.
We need to address the system that discourages people from staying home when they are sick. Sick children often go to school because their parents do not have childcare at home, or cannot take time off work to care for their sick children. Sick adults go to work because they may feel obligated because of personal reasons or because their employers have strict rules for taking sick leave. If all of us work together, as parents, employees, schools, and businesses, we can address some of the systematic issues that encourage the spread of infectious diseases.
Also, we can take personal measures to protect ourselves by washing our hands frequently throughout the day, avoid touching our faces with our hands, and of course, staying away from sick people. Although these are common sense measures, if we all work together to follow these rules, we can stop the spread of infections, including COVID-19.
Until a vaccine for coronavirus is ready, what do you think we can hope for in terms of containing it? Could it simply run its course?
Although we still have a bit of hope, it will be highly unlikely that COVID-19 will die off by itself or that we will be able to contain the virus without a vaccine. This virus is very infectious, but not too deadly. This combination will allow the virus to be very successful in spreading across the globe and becoming a permanent virus that infects people every season.
The most that we can hope for now is to slow down the spread of the virus, while experimental treatments are tested and vaccine candidates are being evaluated.
The most that we can hope for now is to slow down the spread of the virus, while experimental treatments are tested and vaccine candidates are being evaluated. There have been many measures employed to slow down the spread of COVID-19, including quarantines, travel restrictions and social distancing.
Also, it is essential that we are able to quickly identify who has the virus and who does not, so that we can apply target these infection control measures in the most logical manner.
In your opinion, what don’t we know about coronavirus? Or are we as well-informed as we can be?
With close to 100,000 COVID-19 infections, most of them in China, we have learned a lot about the virus from the research and clinical experience in China. From the WHO team that is in China, we know that the drastic measures used by the Chinese government in Hubei were successful in reducing the transmission of the virus.
Some of the experimental drug combinations are also proving to be effective for treating serious infections with COVID-19. We have estimates of the infectiousness and deadliness of the virus, and we know which age groups are most at risk for serious disease.
However, there are still some questions that are not fully answered, such as whether asymptomatic people can spread the virus, whether children and schools may play a role in amplifying the outbreak, how important is airborne spread of the virus, the risk to newborns whose mothers are infected, or the risk to children who have compromised immune systems or other pre-existing diseases.
Coronavirus is now the world’s biggest story. From a health expert’s perspective, do you feel the media have covered it accurately and responsibly, or are you concerned that myths and scare stories could spread?
I believe the media will always focus on the most emergent issues, especially issues that affect all of us. And I feel the mainstream media has done a very good job at reporting the news promptly and accurately. It is hard to balance the need for informing the public about the outbreak and the measures they need to adopt while, at the same time, not causing panic in the general public.
From previous outbreaks, such as SARS and the H1N1 influenza pandemic, there was always some degree of panic and irrational behavior at the beginning of the outbreak. However, as the outbreak became more normalized in people’s minds, we started to see more rational behavior in the public.
It is important that the media report the facts accurately and distinguish fake news and rumors from what is the truth. It is also important to constantly repeat the most important public health messages, such as the importance of hand washing, and misconceptions about the use of surgical masks. People also need to stick to the real news and the facts, and avoid getting their information from social media or other sources that may not be factual.