A conversation about coronavirus in USA and Pakistan

This afternoon I spoke to my hospitalist friend Dr Cyma Firdous while she was on a break. She told me her hospital in New Hampshire is preparing for a surge of coronavirus cases expected in a couple of weeks. They are feeling unprepared and under-equipped. If things are this bad in wealthy, developed USA, how bad will they get in Pakistan and other such countries? We decided to do a brief video conversation in Urdu and share it on social media to try and get across the urgency of the situation. Sharing here the gist of our discussion.

Talking to Dr Cyma Firdous about the importance of covering nose and mouth, importance of self-isolation, lockdown and more

Lockdowns in America are coming too late, like in Pakistan. Even then these are not nation-wide policies but initiated by state governors in USA or by provincial authorities in Pakistan. Businesses and individuals in both places have been taking action but there are still too many who are taking it too lightly. Many Americans headed to Florida thinking the heat would protect them. There is now a rise in Covid-19 cases in Florida. In Pakistan, people are still congregating for religious and social events.

Most people who get infected will recover, and some won’t even know they were infected. In the process they may infect others, who may become seriously ill or even die. That is why it is important for each individual to behave as if they have the virus, in order to protect others.

The novel coronavirus is highly infectious, but it is different from the flu (influenza) because there is no vaccine and no known prevention except lack of contact. Coronavirus manifests differently in different individuals. While the most common indications are fever and dry cough, some may have only a scratchy throat – and recover even before the test results are in six days later. There are not enough masks and other critical equipment to go around even in in the US.

Meanwhile, hospitals should have a no-visitor policy, which Cyma’s hospital has just initiated – again later than they should have, but better later than never. This is a step that hospitals in Pakistan need to also take if they haven’t already.

It will be difficult to enforce because in our culture when someone is unwell, there is such a dependence on family attendants as well as visitors. Community spirit is wonderful and also very evident on occasions like births, deaths, and marriages. But now, people will have to learn to stay away.

That is really the only way to mitigate the disaster being brought on by this highly contagious disease. Everyone needs to #StayHome #StopTheSpread, stay away from weddings, funerals, prayers and other congregations unless you can *keep a distance of 6 feet from other people*, cover your nose and mouth with a mask or scarf – to protect others if not yourself in case you unknowingly have the virus. Regularly washing hands and sanitising door-knobs and any other objects you touch – mobile phones, bags, briefcases – is critical.

Many of us are concerned about daily wagers and those who go into homes to work. The cost of not staying home will in the long run be much more. People can help out by asking domestic staff to stay home but continue to pay their wages. In Turkey, people are putting food on the streets for homeless people to pick up.

There are in fact several initiatives like this one started by a friend in Islamabad, a former TV producer: “There’s a dhaba near my place where local labour and people from the nearby slum / village come to eat. I have paid this Dhaba to give free meals plus a cup of tea to five persons daily during corona pandemic. If you want to share let me know “.

Meanwhile, important to maintain a healthy lifestyle and boost your immune system with regular exercise and good nutrition including extra Vitamin C, ginger, turmeric.

Also: Don’t hoard essential medical supplies, because hospital staff need those more.

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