Viewpoint: Avoid risky behaviour



In this pandemic crisis, there are a lot of unknowns: How long will it last? Will we develop herd immunity? Will the virus take a summer break? Will there be a second wave? We don’t have the answers yet. What we do know is that this novel pathogen, SARS-CoV-2, is readily spread from person to person, causing the potentially deadly disease known as COVID-19. It follows that the main way to break transmission is to keep enough physical distance — the recommended two meters or 6.5 feet — between each other, creating a barrier that the virus is unlikely to leap. The critical point here is that this distance is to be maintained not just sometimes or selectively, but at all times, with the only exception being the people you live with. That is the B.C. Ministry of Health guideline. And the need is now greater than ever to follow that guideline.

Most people on the island are careful to practise this physical distancing, in efforts to break the chain of transmission. But whenever anyone breaches the guideline, the success of everyone’s efforts is put at risk — and so is our collective health. On the island there are half a dozen or so hubs where we still converge to attend to basic needs: grocery stores, pharmacies, the hospital, hardware stores. At this time, these are also hubs for transmission of SARS-CoV-2 by people who host the virus but are asymptomatic, and thus are capable of spreading it unknowingly.

Think about it: nearly all of us (except for hermits) belong to interlocking clusters — family, friends, co-workers, and so on. Each individual in each of these clusters has contact with individuals in other clusters. Ultimately, the network of linked clusters expands to encompass virtually the entire island. If we all gave ourselves exemptions on maintaining physical distancing, we would have the perfect storm, should anyone on the island harbour the virus. 

Fortunately not everyone is so foolhardy as to breach the physical distancing guideline. That provides some breaks in the transmission chain. But to really curb the spread, every one of us should serve as a “circuit breaker,” by rigorously practising physical distancing. Let’s not forget that, while you may be willing to take the personal risk of coming too close to others and potentially getting infected, by so doing you are also putting others at risk of getting infected, in case you are an asymptomatic carrier.

I suggested to one of our grocery stores some practical measures that would keep people apart, even though the aisles are too narrow for people to safely pass one another. Alas, they have been unwilling to implement one-way aisles, arguing that it would inconvenience customers to have to wait for those ahead of them to make their selections. That may be inconvenient indeed. But is this not a time to put up with a few minutes of extra wait for the potential of saving lives? In our caring community, surely that would be a very small price to pay.

David J. Rapport has been a consultant to Vietnam on pandemic planning and an advisor to several UN agencies, including WHO, on the avian influenza pandemic of 2006-07.

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