No need to create public hysteria re COVID-19, says UWI professor

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By Machela Osagboro

The mass hysteria that surrounds the coronavirus is unwarranted, according to the chair of the regional task force on COVID-19, because the symptoms are highly treatable as long as the virus is detected in its early stages.

“It is a myth to say that there is no treatment for COVID-19. It’s true that there is no vaccine, but there is treatment,” Professor Clive Landis said during a forum organised by the University of the West Indies (UWI) on Monday.

He added that the mortality rate has fallen from 21 percent to .7 percent during the early stages of the outbreak in the epicenter of Wuhan, because the hospitals have a better understanding and preparation as to how to deal with the virus. He then applauded the region’s preparation, saying that he was confident that the various countries are prepared to treat the symptoms.

“Our laboratory capacity is better than we have had for any previous viral outbreak affecting the region, so we have the critical tool to mount a prevention containment, isolation and treatment strategy,” Landis said.

 The Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) are working closely with all the member states to make sure all the correct measures are in place to deal with the outbreak, he pointed out.

 He added that there are, “957 cases now in Germany and no deaths. Germany has the highest proportion of critical care beds in Europe; that tells us that there is treatment, supportive treatment”.  He said that this points to the reality that the symptoms of the virus are clearly treatable and thus the fear that is fueling mass hysteria should lessen.

 Additionally, Landis warned against the possible stigmatisation of those who may contract the virus and this will lead to greater community disparity. “When we get to the containment and treatment phase when sporadic cases start happening, we have to make sure that we are all together as one community,” he said.

“We cannot turn on each other if someone is ill. There has to be a very clear non-stigmatising approach to when someone is ill so that we can encourage people to come forward. If we can see people as soon as they begin to show symptoms and isolate them, we can contain this outbreak,” he said as he pointed out that there is no case of the virus being air-borne.

Amidst the need to temper public hysteria, the UWI professor further advised that, “a health literacy campaign targeted at students and staff has to be non-stop and relentless as to what people can do to keep themselves safe.” Landis said the COVID-19 is the fourth viral outbreak that the region has faced in the past 11 years, and the region has always dealt with outbreaks relatively well.

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