Focusing on health and well-being during a global pandemic

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THE COVID-19 global pandemic has initiated an unprecedented response from world leaders, including our own government, which had responded robustly since the virus was confirmed to be present in Guyana on March 11.

In a directive by the President given under the Public Health Ordinance, widespread and sweeping powers to curb the spread of COVID-19 were devolved to numerous ministries with the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) being placed at the forefront of the fight against COVID-19. Some of the more robust measures include the MoPH being able to ‘restrain, segregate and isolate persons suffering from the disease, or who may be likely from exposure to the infection suffer from the disease’ and ‘remove, disinfect, and destroy the personal effects, goods, buildings and any other article, material or thing exposed to infection from the disease.’ Additionally, the MoPH has undertaken to promote cleanliness, ventilation and disinfection.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), COVID-19 is currently accelerating its spread across the globe. Currently, there have been over 350,000 cases and 15,000 deaths worldwide. It took 67 days from the first reported case to reach the first 100,000 cases of Covid-19, but it took only 11 days for the second 100,000 cases, and just four days for the third 100,000 cases, WHO Director General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, has said. During an online press briefing, the director-general noted that ‘Asking people to stay at home and other social-distancing measures are an important way of slowing down the spread of the virus and buying time, but they are defensive measures. To win we need to attack the virus with aggressive and targeted tactics — testing every suspect case, isolating and caring for every confirmed case and tracing and quarantining every close contact.”
Many countries have taken extraordinary measures to inhibit the spread of the disease and one of the most promoted precautionary measures being touted worldwide is social distancing. This essentially means keeping a safe distance (at least three feet) away from anyone and avoiding social pleasantries such as hugging, kissing and shaking hands, as the way to stop the infection passing from person to person or from surfaces to person, as the virus is capable of surviving on surfaces for a number of hours. Guyanese have been chided by the Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Karen Boyle, who said ‘It is very important that people take it seriously, it’s no joke. If we are able to get people to take social distancing seriously, we may very well be able to contain the epidemic that has started here in Guyana and prevent local or community transmission which is what we’re aiming for.’ In other jurisdictions, where emergency legislation has been implemented in order to combat COVID-19, social distancing is not only advisory, but mandatory with countries like Italy, Denmark and Germany willing to arrest and detain citizens who are flouting the new social-isolation rules.

Whilst the focus remains on tracking and curbing the spread of COVID-19, the WHO has rightly pointed out the importance of defensive measures. To this end, the MoPH has made several recommendations which citizens should be aware of in order to maintain our health and well-being during the pandemic. If persons are required to stay at home they should try as much as possible to maintain a healthy lifestyle, proper diet, sleep, exercise as well as maintaining social contact with loved ones via telephone and online. The MoPH does not recommend smoking, alcohol and using other drugs in order to deal with emotions citizens might be experiencing because of the pandemic. Finally, in order to limit worry and agitation, it is recommended that persons lessen the time spent consuming media coverage that could be upsetting.

Additionally, the importance of maintaining good mental health during this pandemic should not be understated. According to a recent study in the medical journal, the Lancet, “The psychological impact of quarantine can be great, resulting in a range of mental health concerns from anxiety and anger to sleep disturbances, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Indeed, separate studies of quarantined patients of SARS, a previous coronavirus outbreak in 2003, found between 10% and 29% suffered PTSD.’ The study further noted that mental health concerns could be exacerbated by stressors associated with quarantining, including ‘infection fears, frustration, boredom, inadequate supplies, lack of information, financial loss and stigma associated with contracting the disease.’

Amidst the flood of information circulating in the media and online, it is important for citizens to remain guided by the MoPH public health advisories as the situation continues to develop.