By Filippos Filippidis*
Just one month ago there were very few cases in Europe and few had realized how serious COVID-19 is. Today we are counting thousands of deaths in Europe, closed schools, universities and borders. Our lives will change significantly over the next few months.
People we know will get sick, some of them will be seriously ill. Some won’t make it. Many will lose their jobs and suffer financially; rights and luxuries we took for granted will be questioned.
This is going to be an endurance race for our society as a whole and for each person individually, so we need to prepare. Some thoughts on what you can do to deal with what’s coming:
1. Identify the right sources of information and follow the experts’ advice. Experts in this context are scientists such as epidemiologists and infectious disease doctors and of course official sources: the World Health Organization, the government, the national public health bodies. Not your neighbour who forwarded you an anonymous post with advice, not your favorite celebrity, the ignorant journalist or your religious leader. Always look for the source of information. If there is no name in it, simply ignore it. If there is, then spend 10 seconds on Google to check if it’s true.
2. Prepare individually and as a family for various scenarios. This does not mean raiding the supermarket, but think about what needs you and your family have and how you will deal with them in case of emergency. These may be medication for chronic diseases and medical devices, food for your pet or liquid for your contact lenses. I’m not saying there will be shortages, but the individual responsible for buying these may get sick or spend considerable time in hospital. Consider alternative plans taking into account that travel can be difficult or even impossible at some point.
3. If you have a job that allows you to work from home, make sure you are able to work remotely for a long time. Also, prepare for potential sudden and long-term absence of your colleagues. Your service or business may need to operate with significantly reduced staff without notice.
4. Take care of yourself. Eat well, lots of fruits and vegetables, do not smoke, exercise (outdoors). Try to sleep well. If you have a chronic disease, adhere to your treatment. A healthy body is better prepared against any disease.
5. Consider your mental health. Anxiety, social isolation, stress about the health of loved ones can exacerbate mental health problems. Get help and support from friends, family and mental health professionals. Schedule a daily break from news to do something that relaxes you. It is just as important as physical health and will be challenged in the near future.
6. At some point it is highly likely that the health system will reach its limits. In such circumstances, no one is safe. Not only those infected with the virus, but also people with other health problems or victims of road accidents who need hospitalization will not be able to receive appropriate care. Each of us can be in this position. Discuss with your partner what your priorities and wishes would be in such a state of emergency, where direct communication may not be possible for many reasons.
7. Communicable diseases do not stop at borders or discriminate between rich and poor. This is a battle that we will either win or lose together as a community. We’re all on the same team. These are times that will go down in history, so have no doubt that everyone will remember who was helpful and who acted selfishly. We can all help:
– Employers and business owners, let your employees know that they won’t lose their jobs if they need to self-isolate at home. If they come to work sick and pass on the virus, things will be worse both for business and the society.
– Consumers, shop responsibly. By emptying shelves in supermarkets and pharmacies you deprive other people from goods that they really need.
– Create small groups of mutual support in your neighborhood. Exchange phone numbers with neighbours, especially those who live alone, the elderly, immigrants. Even if you’ve never spoken before, now is the time to connect. Start WhatsApp groups, ask them how they’re doing, agree to check on each other every 2-3 days.
– If you have a neighbour who is a health care professional, offer to help. They’re going to do the heavy lifting… They’re probably going to get sick themselves and be absent for days. Babysitting for a few hours or shopping for groceries can make a huge difference.
– Stay at home. I know, it’s hard if you are young, but this is your chance to play video games or check social media for hours and get congratulated by your parents for it.
– Wash your hands!
Things will get worse before they get better and it may be a while before we return to normality. But we’ve never had so many tools to fend off such a threat. With patience, perseverance and confidence in science, we’ll make it. Together!
*Filippos Filippidis is a senior lecturer in Public Health at Imperial College London. The article first appeared on Facebook and is republished courtesy of the author.