With the cases of COVID-19 now increasing exponentially worldwide, it is becoming essential that we are prepared here in New Zealand, both as a community and as individuals.
The current pandemic data is demonstrating a virus that is very contagious and very easily spread. It is causing severe illness in many cases, especially in the elderly and in those with underlying lung disease. However, it is also affecting the young, the fit and the healthy.
What are we dealing with?
SARS-CoV-2 is a highly infectious and potentially deadly subtype of coronavirus that causes a respiratory disease called COVID-19.
Over the past months and weeks, the virus and corresponding disease have been compared to the influenza virus and the seasonal flu. However, as time progresses there appears to be significant differences between this and the common seasonal flu.
More Contagious Than the Flu
With an estimated R0 (the expected number of cases directly generated by one case in a population where all individuals are susceptible to infection) between 1.4 – 6.49 and a mean estimate of 3.28, SARS-CoV-2 is much more infectious and spreads much faster than the seasonal flu, which has a median R0 of 1.28.
More Deadly Than the Flu
The so-called case fatality rate (CFR) of SARS-CoV-2 is estimated to be at around 2%, meaning that an estimated 2% of people diagnosed with COVID-19 will succumb to it. In comparison, the CFR of seasonal influenza is estimated to be around 0.1%, this means SARS-CoV-2 is estimated to be about 20 times more deadly than the seasonal flu.
Possibility of Severe Symptoms
An estimated 15 – 20% of infected individuals suffer from severe symptoms, including pneumonia, acute lung injury and cardiac complications.
No Treatment, No Vaccine, No Immunity
As SARS-CoV-2 has only recently emerged, there is no well-studied treatment for COVID-19 and more research is needed in order to treat infected people efficiently. Likewise, there is no vaccine for SARS-CoV-2 and the development of such a vaccine will take a significant amount of time. With no vaccines and no prior immunity, anyone is a susceptible target for infection. While most infected people will only suffer from mild symptoms, this lack of herd-immunity can lead to severe illness in a significant amount of at-risk individuals.
Due to the lack of immunity, the entire human population is the upper limit of possible infections. And although exponential growth always seems slow at first, it can lead to unfathomably high numbers in a rather short time. With the numbers of infected people currently doubling in a matter of a few days in some areas, medical systems have become overloaded, leading to high numbers of fatalities and finite resources.
What can we do?
Taking steps to both reduce and prevent transmission between individuals and optimising our own immunity is paramount.
With a viable vaccine is potentially another year away, the key to managing this pandemic is to reduce local spread.
The following list of actions (based on recommendations from countries where local spread has already occurred), have been ordered from ‘Easiest to Implement’, to ‘Most effective but most imposing’.
Don't panic, but be alert.
Wash your hands often and practise good cough and sneeze etiquette.
Try to touch your face as little as possible, including your mouth, nose, and eyes.
Practice social distancing, no hugs and kisses, no handshakes, no high fives. If you must, use safer alternatives.
Do not attend concerts, stage plays, sporting events, or any other mass entertainment events.
Refrain from visiting museums, exhibitions, movie theatres, night clubs, and other entertainment venues.
Stay away from social gatherings and events, like club meetings, religious services, and private parties.
Reduce your amount of travel to a minimum. Don't travel long distances if not absolutely necessary.
Do not use public transportation if not absolutely necessary.
If you can work from home, work from home. Urge your employer to allow remote work if needed.
Replace as many social interactions as possible with remote alternatives like phone calls or video chat.
Do not leave your home if not absolutely necessary.