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Avoid contact

By Hubert Vaz

The importance of social distancing to stay healthy has never been emphasised more as during the current COVID-19 pandemic. The sultanate has entered into the third stage of community transmission and the best precaution by everyone is to avoid close contact with strangers as well as known people, say doctors in Oman.

According to Dr Benny Panakkal, senior cardiologist and Medical Director, Badr al Samaa Group of Hospitals, “The COVID 19 virus has  certain unique features regarding its infection pattern. Understanding this is very important to strategise the preventive strategies against it.”

The two most important characteristics of this disease are as follows:

  1. The disease, before it shows symptoms in the infected person, is already contagious and the person may start to shed the virus through his body fluids. The asymptomatic period after a person is infected and he becomes symptomatic may prolong up to 14 days.
  2. Around 80 per cent of people who get infected have mild symptoms, not significant symptoms, and may not be aware that they have the disease.

Staying aloof, the best policy

Because of these characteristics, we may not know or predict who could be carrying the virus and who can potentially transmit the disease when the disease has already spread in the community, though in the initial stage there were only a few imported cases, Dr Benny explained.

“Oman is already in the community transmission stage, so, the best policy is to keep away from people whom we do not know, since they may have the potential to carry the disease. Avoid unnecessary contact with anyone other than immediate family members,” he stressed.

He further elaborated, that it is important to note that the virus spreads through droplets which are created while someone coughs or sneezes, and that it may survive on various surfaces for hours to days.

When one talks, coughs, sneezes, the droplets can travel up to maximum two metres before they fall to the ground. Also persons who have any symptoms like cough etc should follow the healthy cough etiquette like using a tissue or sneezing or coughing in their sleeves.

“If we keep a minimum distance of two metres from everyone, we can avoid exposure to these potentially contagious droplets. Hence, social distancing means keeping this safe distance from anyone we interact with,” Dr Benny said pointing out that in Oman people are still allowed to go out for their essential needs, though advised not to gather around unnecessarily.

“It is very important to adhere to this principle of social distancing,” he said, adding, “Stay safe at home. If you need to go out for very essential needs, striclty follow social distancing and wash your hands with soap and water frequently, especially after reaching back home .”

No parties, no picnics

Dr K P Raman, chairman of Al Hayat International Hospital, who describes social distancing as ‘a powerful disease control tool’ says, it will be effective only if all concerned participate.

The key components of social distancing include avoiding close contact, maintaining at least two metres distance from everyone, avoding all gatherings (parties, celebrations, picnics, beach walks,  visit to parks etc), avoiding contact with those at high risk (health care workers, those who live in close proximity in camps, those who have recently travelled abroad, those who came in contact with COVID-19 patients and those with symptoms such as cough and fever, he explained.

Emphasising the need to work from home as much as possible, he alo called on people in Oman to greet each other with a bow and avoid handshakes/hugs/kisses as well as getting out of home except for emergencies.

“The science behind social distancing is when community spread occurs and one does not know who could be carrying the virus in his/her body. After the virus enters the body, for about 6 days it remains silent. During this time, one does not know if one is carrying the virus and may come in contact with many people and spread the infection to all,” Dr Raman said, adding that quarantining oneself when the damage is already done is of no use.

“It is believed that ten infected persons, if they are allowed to move around freely, can spread the infection to 25 persons in 5 days and 4000 persons  in about 30 days. But, if social distancing is practised and successful by at least 75 per cent, in 5 days only 6 new persons   and in 30 days only 25 persons can get infected,” Dr Raman explained, asserting that social distancing was, hence, a powerful tool for control of COVID-19.

“It is easy to achieve the goal of social distancing in Oman because, as compared to other countries, the Omani population is well disciplined and law abiding, there is a rational society and the implementing authorities such as ROP and MOH are duty conscious, firm but polite and helpful. So, we are seeing successful results within a few days of implementation,” Dr Raman said.