Things had been falling into place lately. I relocated to Tagaytay City, visiting my kids weekly in Metro Manila. As a home-based editor and writer, I cannot ask for more – the view is spectacular, the climate is cool to cold. COVID-19, though, has been a cause for concern. So, to reduce the risk of catching the virus, both the ex and I agreed to temporarily stop the visits, days before the community quarantine was even announced.
Quarantine is supposed to keep the people safe or at least minimize the risk of getting infected. Lessening the number of people we come into contact with should keep us safe. In the past days, though, my understanding of COVID-19 and human interaction dynamics has led me to conclude one thing. The notion that secluding ourselves in the house keeps us safe is absolutely untrue.
COVID-19’s main transmission route is through respiratory droplets expelled when an infected person sneezes or coughs. If we happen to be close by and inhaled contaminated air, then the virus can find its way to our lungs. Social distancing and community quarantine helps us avoid becoming infected this way.
At any rate, the airborne virus is going to settle down on a surface. It could be anything – tabletops, handrails, boxes, and floors, among others. In this scenario, we may contract the virus by touching a contaminated object with our hands and then touching any part of our face. And that is why we need to wash our hands frequently with anti-microbial soap and water.
A false sense of security could get you, a loved one, or a neighbor infected.
After conforming to these recommendations, we may neglect other possible causes of viral contamination. Consequently, we tend to be less mindful of keeping up to date and dealing with previously unknown transmission routes.
Travel Ban Does Not Stop COVID-19
On social media, there is a lot of noise criticizing Pres. Duterte and the Secretary of Health Dr. Duque for not imposing a travel ban. Some people even go as far as to say that we would not have the novel coronavirus of 2019 if they banned the entry of Chinese nationals.
Here’s the thing.
A travel ban does not stop people in affected countries from leaving. That certainly did not happen during the Ebola virus outbreak in 2014. In fact, an average of 2.8 infected individuals left their country per month, traveling to low and lower middle income countries (Bogoch et al.). An 80% reduction in airline traffic, for example, only delayed the infectious disease’s importation by 3 to 4 weeks (Gomes et al. 2014).
Based on the studies conducted on the effect of country-level travel bans, it is evident that an infectious disease will continue to spread. We, as a nation, depend on products coming from China and other parts of the world. Banning travel paralyzes the supply of essential goods and international medical experts and teams from coming to help. A better option is to control the disease locally instead of containing it at international borders (Otsuki & Nishiura).
I cited research on the Ebola virus, but the effects of banning international travel in other epidemics also failed to stop the spread of infectious diseases such as:
- 2003 Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome; also called SARS coronavirus (SARS-CoV)
- 2012 Middle East respiratory syndrome; also called MERS coronavirus (MERS‐CoV)
- 2015 Zika Virus
In China, the travel quarantine around Wuhan delayed by only a few days the spread of COVID-19 to other areas within the country and 2 to 3 weeks outside the country (Chinazzi et al.).
Social Distancing Either Works or Makes It Worse
Regardless of when the authorities imposed travel bans, COVID-19 was coming. Delayed, yes. Consistent with the studies previously conducted, we now see an outbreak occurring at an alarming rate.
As of 21 October 2020, we have 360,775 confirmed cases.
Reducing virus transmission can be accomplished by social distancing in schools, workplaces, and mass gatherings (Qualls et al.). Increasing the physical distance or reducing close contact frequency in dense community settings can lessen virus transmission by up to 23% (Ahmed, Zviedrite, & Uzicanin).
Social distancing is not a sure success, though, and results in two extremes. Adopt a highly cautious control, and that can suppress the epidemic quickly. On the other hand, if such a measure is attempted but not enough to contain the spread, the outcome will be worse. In this case, doing nothing is better than trying (Maharaj & Kleczkowski).
Community Quarantine Is Not Enough to Contain COVID-19
The purpose of imposing community quarantine is to enforce social distancing. Suppose you were to think of each province or region in the Philippines as a country. In that case, you surely realize now that regardless of a travel ban, COVID-19 will continue to spread. It took only a few days for the virus to break out of Wuhan, reaching other parts of Mainland China. We are seeing that now in Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao.
Social distancing, at this time, is not slowing down the rise of confirmed cases. It is going to get worse before getting better. COVID-19 pandemic has an end, but at what cost to human life and the economy?
No man is an island. At some point, someone in the household has to go out. I live alone, which is why I still go out to buy food and other necessities. At any given time, I could pick up the virus somewhere – touching elevator control buttons, grocery items, money, and so on. Heck, I could even bring back the virus by stepping on them, literally.
If you think you are safer working at home, think twice. As more people get infected, the risk of you or I contracting the disease also increases.
Am I scared, worried? Of course, and that is a good thing. Fear makes me cautious and less likely to neglect preventive measures.
Sources and Further Reading:
Bogoch, Isaac I, et al. “Assessment of the Potential for International Dissemination of Ebola Virus via Commercial Air Travel during the 2014 West African Outbreak.” The Lancet, vol. 385, no. 9962, 2015, pp. 29–35., http://www.thelancet.com/retrieve/pii/S0140673614618286.
Gomes, Marcelo F. C., et al. “Assessing the International Spreading Risk Associated with the 2014 West African Ebola Outbreak.” PLOS Currents Outbreaks, Public Library of Science, 2 Sept. 2014, http://currents.plos.org/outbreaks/index.html%3Fp=40803.html.
Otsuki, Shiori, and Hiroshi Nishiura. “Reduced Risk of Importing Ebola Virus Disease Because of Travel Restrictions in 2014: A Retrospective Epidemiological Modeling Study.” PLOS ONE, Public Library of Science, 22 Sept. 2016, https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0163418.
Chinazzi, Matteo, et al. “The Effect of Travel Restrictions on the Spread of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) Outbreak.” Science, 6 Mar. 2020, https://science.sciencemag.org/content/368/6489/395.
Qualls, Noreen, et al. “Community Mitigation Guidelines to Prevent Pandemic Influenza – United States, 2017.” MMWR. Recommendations and Reports : Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. Recommendations and Reports, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 21 Apr. 2017, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5837128/.
Ahmed, Faruque, et al. “Effectiveness of Workplace Social Distancing Measures in Reducing Influenza Transmission: a Systematic Review.” BMC Public Health, vol. 18, no. 1, 18 Apr. 2018, https://bmcpublichealth.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12889-018-5446-1.
Maharaj, Savi, and Adam Kleczkowski. “Controlling Epidemic Spread by Social Distancing: Do It Well or Not at All.” BMC Public Health, vol. 12, no. 1, 20 Aug. 2012, https://bmcpublichealth.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1471-2458-12-679.