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A Handbook on Sanitization in the Time of Corona: Dos and Don’ts

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As the death toll in India rises every day with a steady increase in the number of active cases, copious amounts of newsreel, and airtime have gone into dissecting the novel Coronavirus in the minutest detail, with a barrage of scientists and doctors chipping in. It is hardly a place for a journalist like me to offer any unique analysis to readers that have not already been out there and dealt with by subject experts. However, in such an atmosphere of information overload and fleeting news cycles, sometimes one needs to declutter and remember the simpler things that are often overlooked in our joint efforts to mitigate the deadly impact of Covid-19. Therefore, I am putting forward a handy guide book of realities and myths that affect our dos and don’ts with regard to our lifestyle and sanitization during this outbreak. I must assure you that all the information here is gleaned from detailed interviews with doctors and scientists, and my effort is limited to just compiling them in a coherent fashion. 

First and foremost, it has to be acknowledged that this is a novel virus—which means we are still learning about it. Much of our understanding of it is nascent and there is scope for adjustments as leading scientists across the world keep studying it. What can be asserted for certain is that the virus is highly contagious, has a relatively long shelf life on both human carriers and fomites and, in the absence of a vaccine, it can only be contained with a combination of social distancing, that is personal plus public sanitization at a scale which has never been seen before, and rampant testing to isolate the affected patients/carriers to stall the virulent spread. In the worst affected countries such as Italy, Spain, and the US, the singular problem in treatment has arisen from the rapid outbreak that has overwhelmed the health care system. A nationwide lockdown in India has been announced at the cost of great economic hardship to a big chunk of the population to avoid exactly that: a health care system brought to the brink of collapse in case of a massive outbreak.       

‘If it can hit me, it can hit anyone’ – Dr Ian Lipkin

So, what can we do to help without resorting to panic and hysteria? By this time, most of us are aware of the benefits of social distancing, vigorous hand washing, and minimizing stepping out of our homes. So I won’t be repeating them here, except for urging all of us to follow these guidelines stringently. However, the virus is sneaky and as the medical consultant for the movie Contagion, Dr. Ian Lipkin has claimed bluntly, ‘If it can hit me, it can hit anyone’. So there are additional sanitization measures that are a must. All household touchpoints should be identified and sanitized either with an alcohol-based sanitizer or bleach-based solution—these can include, but are not limited to, doorknobs, switches (make sure they are off when you clean), taps, water bottles, TV remotes and so on. All purchases procured from outside should be sanitized too apart from grocery items. There is no evidence that the virus is killed by exposure to sunlight, so warming things under the sun might not help. Doctors have also been urging a going-outdoors discipline regime. As debates rage between experts and various agencies on whether the virus can be airborne or not, it is advisable for everyone to wear a mask while going out. It is also recommended that one washes clothes that come in contact with any person or surface outside the house.  Either wash or sanitize them. As reports suggest that the virus can survive on paper surfaces too, avoid currency notes as much as you can, and opt for digital payments.

We must bear in mind that there is a flood of myth and fake news surrounding the virus. Those affect our lifestyle and have a direct impact on an already embattled economy. The virus does not spread through cooked seafood, meat, or eggs. However, if you are ordering food from restaurants, make sure to transfer the contents to your own utensils and throw away the containers they are delivered in. Same goes for packaging of any delivery. And, yes, and I cannot stress this enough, wash your hands for twenty seconds with soap after every such activity. If more and more people follow these simple steps, I am hopeful, along with many doctors, that India can significantly reduce the outbreak of the pandemic.

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