COVID-19: Time to scare people?
Table of Contents
COVID-19: Time to scare people?
The World Health Organisation has made it official, COVID-19 is a pandemic.
New Zealand Chess News makes no claim of expertise with infectious diseases. Information is collated and analysed using a similar rational and logical perspective a chess player would make when looking at a particular position on a chess board. We share our opinion on the situation as at 12th March 2020 and what should be done when there is community transmission of COVID-19.
What is COVID-19?
Symptoms that a person has contracted COVID-19 are, cough, fever, and shortness of breath. These symptoms are similar to common illnesses like the cold or flu. However shortness of breath indicates possible pneumonia that requires immediate medical attention.
How it infects.
The SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus that causes COVID-19 spreads from person to person. When a person with COVID-19 sneezes, coughs, or talks, they may spread droplets containing the virus a short distance that settles on surrounding surfaces. Another person could get infected by touching these surfaces and then touching their mouth, nose or eyes. Therefore transferring the virus to these areas.
Below is a video by Nanogirl (Dr. Michelle Dickinson) that explains COVID-19 for children.
If you are ill you should avoid infecting others by:
- Coughing or sneezing into your elbow or by covering your mouth and nose with tissues.
- Put used tissues in the bin or a bag immediately.
- Stay home if you feel ill.
To avoid being infected by those who are ill:
- Wash your hands with soap and water often (for at least 20 seconds).
- Try to avoid close contact with people who are unwell.
- Don’t touch your eyes, nose or mouth if your hands are not clean.
- Avoid personal contact, such as kissing, sharing cups or food with sick people.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces and objects, such as doorknobs.
The most effective way to prevent infection is through frequent hand washing. Those who are ill may help reduce spreading infectious droplets by wearing a face mask.
However wearing a face mask may be counter productive for those who are not infected as it may provide a false sense of security and actually reduce the frequency of hand washing or sanitising. Similarly, wearing gloves may actually increase the likelihood of spreading infectious droplets unless the gloves are changed and disposed often.
Below is a video by Nanogirl (Dr. Michelle Dickinson) that explains proper hand washing technique that even children can understand.
What is the situation?
We have observed panic buying of face masks, hand sanitiser, disinfectants, flour, dried pasta, canned food, rice, toilet paper and even paracetamol. Is there a rational basis for this sort of behaviour?
While COVID-19 is a threat, what should be the appropriate response to it? Should we respond with reason, rationality, open mindedness and altruism? Or do we panic, fear, be suspicious, reactionary and self interested?
It is probably inevitable that COVID-19 will be coming to a town, a hospital, a friend, even a family member near you at some point. We need to expect it and stop waiting to be surprised further. The virus itself will probably have slight effects on most infected people when it arrives. However our own selfish behaviors and attitudes could be more disastrous than the disease.
Currently there is no community transmission of COVID-19 and all confirmed cases in New Zealand can be traced to a known foreign source of infection. The chance of a COVID-19 outbreak with widespread domestic New Zealand community transmission is expected to remain low. This depends on continued vigilance and the cooperation of people.
What to expect.
Let’s not mince words, once there is domestic New Zealand community transmission, COVID-19 is coming to you. Gradually at first then escalating suddenly with exponential speed. Based on the Italian experience, it would be a handful of initial cases followed by a sudden exponential increase in a matter of days up to a week or two.
Travel bans will be imposed on more countries. This causes major transportation disruption and cancellation of airline flights. People who are traveling internationally would find it difficult to reach their destination. Travelers could find themselves stranded in a foreign place.
Eventually the whole world could be locked down.
Overwhelmed Healthcare Systems.
Even though most infected people would have mild symptoms, when COVID-19 arrives and infects large numbers of people in the population, the healthcare system will still be overwhelmed. The healthcare system will be stretched past breaking point, with patients treated in hallways and other makeshift facilities. Healthcare workers will break down from exhaustion and some would tragically die.
Healthcare workers will be forced to ration overburdened facilities and treatments. They will be deciding which patient gets treatment and who will be denied and possibly die. Those who require treatment for COVID-19 would be most at risk in this situation.
COVID-19 is inevitably coming but disastrous effects can be mitigated if community transmission is slowed down.
What to do.
When a country is unable to contain the spread of COVID-19 the focus would change to mitigation. To reduce the rate of infections as much as possible so that the healthcare system is better able to cope, leading to a lower fatality rate. The goal is not to eliminate infections but to postpone them until the rest of population can be vaccinated to eliminate the disease.
Until effective vaccines that provide immunity are developed, basically the best course of action that works is social distancing. Keeping people at home as much as possible for as long as possible.
A few precious extra days of earlier social distancing will save lives. Social distancing reduces the speed that COVID-19 spreads and buys precious time for the healthcare system to cope.
An article by Tomas Pueyo in Medium.com with thorough analysis of this dire situation and how urgently action must be taken is turning out to be alarmingly accurate. The two main points of implementing social distancing and consequences of delay are summarised below.
Social Distancing should be implemented once it is known that a region has COVID-19 infections through community transmission. Using Italy’s example, social distancing is done by ordering a lockdown. This is what happens in an Italian style lockdown:
- Nobody enters or exits lockdown areas except for proven family or work reasons.
- Movement inside lockdown areas avoided unless justified for personal or work reasons and cannot be postponed.
- People with symptoms to remain self isolated at home.
- Closure of all educational institutions (eg. schools, universities), cultural and social centers, swimming pools and theaters.
- All commercial and social activity must keep a distance of one meter between people. Those that cannot must close.
- Hospital visits by family and friends are limited.
- Work from home where possible and all work meetings postponed.
- All sports events and competitions cancelled.
An Italian style lockdown can be considered a minimal lockdown. The safest lockdown to check community transmission of COVID-19 is a much stricter one like that done in Wuhan.
Consequences of delay.
The consequences of delaying put the seemingly draconian measures to implement social distancing into perspective.
Delaying implementation of social distancing once COVID-19 infections through community transmission are detected is to allow exponential growth of infections. This leads to multiplication of serious cases that would overwhelm the healthcare system and lead to a higher fatality rate.
For every known COVID-19 infection by community transmission, there are probably many more unknown infections that remain undetected in the community. Therefore every single day social distancing is delayed, there would be an exponential growth in the number of infections that would result in disastrously higher fatality rates.
Issues related to chess.
Meetings, conferences, exhibitions, concerts and sporting events (including chess) are being cancelled, postponed or suspended.
We are now fairly well informed of the measures one can take to mitigate risk but it is still projected that a huge percentage of a country’s population is unavoidably going to be infected and contract COVID-19. The data suggests the seniors (those aged above 50) are most vulnerable while the juniors (aged below 20) are largely unaffected but infectious.
Shutting down of gatherings.
In order to slow down the rate of infections, schools, colleges, and universities would close and everyone involved would stay at home. By extension this would result in the shutting down of all social or sports events where people gather.
Our local chess clubs and chess tournaments would be forced to close in a lockdown that enforced social distancing. All chess games played over the board effectively require close contact where people are within a meter of each other for longer than 15 minutes and repeatedly touching chess equipment surfaces. Many games also take place indoors in rooms with poor ventilation.
The Association of Chess Professionals has urged all national chess federations and organisers worldwide to cancel or postpone planned events and to immediately halt any ongoing events.
If your national chess federation had not yet taken any lockdown measures and you belong to the demographic that is at higher risk of mortality and other serious effects from COVID-19, you are better off being prudent and practice social distancing personally. Stay at home as much as possible for as long as possible.
Moving chess online.
It may seem frivolous to consider what happens to your chess activity. Our local chess club would likely be forced to close in a lockdown. However, being able to play chess could be significant to maintain mental health under social distancing in a lockdown. Chess has the advantage over many other sports by being able to be played online.
Perhaps COVID-19 may be the catalyst for chess tournaments being played online. Removing the need to travel to be at a venue in person. Playing official chess games from home may be an increasing trend caused by COVID-19, just like working from home. The World Online School Chess Tournament is an example of such an official event.
Chess trainers will find that the game has long enjoyed a close and arguably enabling relationship with technology and so are able to move chess coaching activities with their students quite seemlessly online.
When will this end?
It is unlikely that COVID-19 can be controlled until effective vaccines that provide immunity are available.
Until that happens the whole world may go into lockdown. Increased travel restrictions would be implemented against more countries. More flights may be cancelled and make international travel more difficult. Making it advisable to postpone international travel while preparing for a lockdown at home.
Meanwhile we should all prudently practice social distancing to minimise the likelihood of getting infected and contracting COVID-19.