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 decrease 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 reduce the risk of getting infected. By lessening the number of people we come into contact with, we should be safe. In the past days, though, my understanding of COVID-19 and the dynamics of human interaction 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 is going to get you infected, potentially killing you or someone in the family or the community.
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 routes of transmission.
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 in the country 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 was able to leave their country per month, traveling to low and lower middle income countries (Bogoch et al. 2014). An 80% reduction in airline traffic, for example, only delayed the importation of the infectious disease by 3 to 4 weeks (Gomes et al. 2014).
It is evident, based on the studies conducted on the effect of country-level travel bans, 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 not only paralyzes the supply of essential goods but also international medical experts and teams from coming to help. A better option is to control the disease locally instead of trying to contain it at international borders (Otsuki & Nishiura 2016).
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. 2020).
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 23 March 2020, we have 396 confirmed cases.
Reducing virus transmission can be accomplished by social distancing in schools, workplaces, and mass gatherings (Qualls et al. 2017). Increasing the physical distance or reducing the frequency of close contact in dense community settings can lessen virus transmission by up to 23% (Ahmed, Zviedrite, & Uzicanin 2018).
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, then the outcome is going to be worse. In this case, doing nothing is better than trying (Maharaj & Kleczkowski 2012).
Community Quarantine Is Not Enough to Contain COVID-19
The purpose of imposing community quarantine is to enforce social distancing. If you were to think of each province or region in the Philippines as a country, then surely you 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, and 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, for one, may live in seclusion, 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, 20 October 2014, pp. 29-35, https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(14)61828-6.
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 September 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 September 2016, https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0163418.
Chinazzi, Matteo, et al. “The Effect of Travel Restrictions on the Spread of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) Outbreak.” Science, 6 March 2020, https://science.sciencemag.org/content/early/2020/03/05/science.aba9757.
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 April 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 April 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 August 2012, https://bmcpublichealth.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1471-2458-12-679.