On 30 January 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the current outbreak of COVID-19 a public health emergency of international concern. As a traveller, here are some of the things you should know about COVID 2019, including how you can protect yourself.
What is this COVID-19?
It is an illness caused by a member of the coronavirus family that has never been encountered before. Like other coronaviruses, it has come from animals. Many of those initially infected either worked or frequently shopped in the Huanan seafood wholesale market in the centre of the Chinese city.
What are the symptoms this coronavirus causes?
The virus can cause pneumonia. Those who have fallen ill are reported to suffer coughs, fever and breathing difficulties. In severe cases, there can be organ failure. As this is viral pneumonia, antibiotics are of no use. The antiviral drugs we have against flu will not work. Recovery depends on the strength of the immune system. Many of those who have died were already in poor health.
How does it spread?
COVID-19 is primarily transmitted through droplets from, and close contact with, infected individuals.
How can we control it?
Control measures that focus on prevention, particularly through regular hand washing and cough hygiene, and on active surveillance for the early detection and isolation of cases, the rapid identification and close monitoring of persons in contacts with cases, and the rapid access to clinical care, particularly for severe cases, are effective to contain most outbreaks of COVID-19.
WHO Recommendations for international travellers
It is prudent for travellers who are sick to delay or avoid travel to affected areas, in particular for elderly travellers and people with chronic diseases or underlying health conditions.
General recommendations for personal hygiene, cough etiquette and keeping a distance of at least one metre from persons showing symptoms remain particularly important for all travellers. These include:
- Perform hand hygiene frequently, particularly after contact with respiratory secretions. Hand hygiene includes either cleaning hands with soap and water or with an alcohol-based hand rub. Alcohol-based hand rubs are preferred if hands are not visibly soiled; wash hands with soap and water when they are visibly soiled;
- Cover your nose and mouth with a flexed elbow or paper tissue when coughing or sneezing and disposing immediately of the tissue and performing hand hygiene;
- Refrain from touching mouth and nose;
- As a general precaution, anyone visiting live animal markets, wet markets or animal product markets, should practice general hygiene measures, including regular handwashing with soap and potable water after touching animals and animal products, avoiding touching eyes, nose or mouth with hands, and avoiding contact with sick animals or spoiled animal products. Any contact with other animals possibly living in the market (e.g., stray cats and dogs, rodents, birds, bats) should be strictly avoided. Attention should also be taken to avoid contact with potentially contaminated animal waste or fluids on the soil or structures of shops and market facilities
- The consumption of raw or undercooked animal products should be avoided. Raw meat, milk or animal organs should be handled with care, to avoid cross-contamination with uncooked foods, as per good food safety practices.
- A medical mask is not required if exhibiting no symptoms, as there is no evidence that wearing a mask – of any type – protects non-sick persons. However, in some cultures, masks may be commonly worn. If masks are to be worn, it is critical to follow best practices on how to wear, remove and dispose of them and on hand hygiene after removal
Tips on Masks management
If medical masks are worn, appropriate use and disposal are essential to ensure they are effective and to avoid any increase in risk of transmission associated with the incorrect use and disposal of masks.
The following information on correct use of medical masks are recommended by WHO:
- place mask carefully to cover mouth and nose and tie securely to minimise any gaps between the face and the mask;
- while in use, avoid touching the mask;
- remove the mask by using appropriate technique (i.e. do not touch the front but remove the lace from behind);
- after removal or whenever you inadvertently touch a used mask, clean hands by using an alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water if visibly soiled
- replace masks with a new clean, dry mask as soon as they become damp/humid;
- do not re-use single-use masks;
- discard single-use masks after each use and dispose of them immediately upon removal.
- Cloth (e.g. cotton or gauze) masks are not recommended under any circumstance.
Tips for food hygiene
As for any travel, travellers are also advised to follow proper food hygiene practices, including the five keys for food safety, as well as recommendations to reduce the risk of transmission of emerging pathogens from animals to human in live markets.
What you should do if you have travelled to affected areas
Travellers returning from affected areas should self-monitor for symptoms for 14 days and follow national protocols of receiving countries. Some countries may require returning travellers to enter quarantine.
What to Do if you have symptoms
If symptoms occur, such as fever, or cough or difficulty breathing, travellers are advised to contact local health care providers, preferably by phone, and inform them of their symptoms and their travel history.
Local authorities have set standards for managing travellers identified at points of entry so don’t panic if are detected with the virus at the points of entry. Airline operators have their own guidance on treatment of sick passengers on board of airplanes too as well as operators of ships.
The WHO has also provided key considerations for planning of large mass gathering events. you can read on WHO’s website.
First published on March 2, 2020