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COVID-19: Why This Is Different

Dr.Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the Director General of the WHO (The World Health Organisation) has now declared the COVID – 19 virus outbreak to be a pandemic. On March 9th, 2020, he also said that:

…it would be the first pandemic in history that could be controlled. The great advantage we have is that the decisions we all make – as governments, businesses, communities, families and individuals – can influence the trajectory of this epidemic.

We need to remember that with decisive, early action, we can slow down the virus and prevent infections. Among those who are infected, most will recover.”

But before we explore that more, let’s consider the critical ramifications of COVID – 19.

Current estimates suggest the mortality rate is at most 3.5% +/-. This means that at the current transmission rates we will not experience larger numbers of deaths due to this disease (not to minimise the impact of those who do die). Responding to COVID -19 is vital, from both an economic and health standpoint and is an important concept to grasp.

There have been many comparisons between this pandemic and the 1918 H1N1 outbreak, known as the Spanish Flu. In a global context, society, healthcare, medical research and travel have evolved since 1918, and the diseases are different as well.

Firstly, lets explore the similarities, both viruses attack the respiratory system (although in 1918 they believed that the disease was caused by a bacterial infection).

Secondly, social distancing strategies have been utilised in both pandemics. Social distancing is a strategy which aims to create distance between people, it varies from no handshakes or face to face meetings, to cancelling mass gatherings.

There are several important differences to note as well, when the 1918 outbreak started, the world was still mired in a global conflict, and the outbreak continued after that conflict had ended. Furthermore, nutrition was poor in 1918 and medicine had not advanced as far as it has today. Epidemiology was poorly understood and record keeping was inadequate. But one of the major differences is that air travel was non-existent in 1918, meaning that the disease could not travel long distances as quickly.

We can see in context the two diseases are quite different. In 1918, 500 million people were infected, which was approximately 27% of the world’s population. This is most likely an underreporting of the cases as record keeping was not as sophisticated. Of those 500 million it is hard to say how many people died but it is believed to have been between 17 and 50 million, with some recent research suggesting it could have been as many as 100 million.

That puts the range of the mortality somewhere between 3.5 and 10% (with the newer research suggesting a mortality rate of 20%). As previously mentioned, the mortality rate of COVID -19 sits at about 3.5%. However, it is likely that this will be downgraded as many cases have gone underreported, whereas the reporting of fatalities is much more accurate.

The most notable epidemiological difference between the two viruses is that COVID-19’s fatality rate will not be anywhere near as high as the Spanish Flu. Furthermore, a significant economic effect will be felt worldwide with this current pandemic.

With large numbers of staff absent from work due to sickness or having to look after loved ones, businesses will struggle, some may even fail. This will have a significant effect on manufacturing, supply chains as well as service industries. And as usual in these circumstances it is the poorest and most vulnerable in society that will suffer the most.

It is obvious to see when rationally comparing the two pandemics there are some similarities between them, however there are many factors that are in fact very different.  When parallels are drawn between the two without considering the differences it can instil a false fear and can lead to panic buying of goods or businesses making the wrong decisions.

But there is some good news, as Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the Director General of the WHO said, “…it would be the first pandemic in history that could be controlled.”

How will we control COVID- 19? In a very real sense, we all have a part to play in controlling this disease. From governments to employees, we all must take COVID -19 seriously, without submitting to fear and anxiety.

By adhering to simple strategies, we can limit the spread and effect of COVID -19.

  1. If you think you have the virus, the initial sign is a raised temperature of over 37.5 oC, then you should self-isolate for two weeks. Don’t visit a doctor unless you are over 60, In New Zealand call Healthline on 0800 611 116 or 0800 358 5453 for advice.
  2. Practice social distancing wherever possible. No mass gatherings, concerts, cinema or church for instance. Also, no handshakes or face to face meetings, instead utilise email, telephone, and videoconference. Work from home if you are able, wherever possible.
  3. Cleaning; increase the cleaning of communal areas, such as, kitchens toilets, reception desks etc.
  4. And finally; personal hygiene, wash your hands thoroughly (wash for at least 20 seconds and dry for at least 20 seconds) before and after eating, visiting the toilet, and whenever you cough or sneeze. If you must cough or sneeze then do so into a disposable tissue and throw it out immediately, or into the sleeve over your elbow. Try to stop touching your face, if you have the virus on your hands you increase the chance of transmission by touching your face.

So, to return to the statement by Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebre. We can control this disease. But to do so we must take sensible, deliberate action and persist with it over the coming months. This is as true for an organisation as it is for a country.

We have been hearing a lot in the media about, “now is the time to make a plan” but many people and organisations do not know how to update their old plans, or where to start with new ones.

RiskLogic has set up Pandemic Response Teams as well as unique organisational plans and strategies. If your organisation needs that support, now is the time to reach out to our industry leading professionals before it’s too late.

Visit risklogic.co.nz or call 0800 003 453 today.

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