COVID-19 OIST Insight 7
OIST is collaborating with Ryukyu Shimpo for a series of column articles related to COVID-19 on weekly basis. The 7th story was written by President Peter Gruss.
Article is in Japanese, but please see below the original draft in English.
The New Normal for Individuals
SARS-CoV-2 has turned out to be a devastating virus. As of the moment that I am writing this article, it has infected more than 6,800,000 people and claimed more than 390,000 lives. No end is in sight.
The UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres opened our eyes to the extent of its impact, noting “this is not only a health crisis, but a job crisis, a humanitarian crisis, and a development crisis. This pandemic shows that we are all at risk”.
To fight COVID-19 we have had to make radical changes to most of the things we do: work, education, exercise, social life, and caring for others.
People are impatient for a more normal routine. Ideally, we want back the life we lived before. But after five months of disruption, things are not returning to normal. It is possible some never will.
Considering that a vaccine to provide immunity could be more than 1.5 years away – which is optimistic – many measures will have to remain for some time. Why is this?
Despite the high number of infected people around the globe, no country is known to have more than 5% of its population with antibodies to COVID-19. 95% of us remain vulnerable.
Some countries have fared much better than others. Take Japan. Here, there has been 10% of the number of infected people and casualties compared with, say, Germany. Okinawa seems to have been particularly fortunate. Only 142 (Excluding the one found at the Narita Airport) SARS-CoV-2 positive cases have been diagnosed. Experts are puzzled by this and have attempted to explain it. The journal ‘Science’ published analysis suggesting that voluntary social distancing aided Japan. Instead of widespread testing, Japan worked to identify clusters of infections, attacking the underlying causes. Often these turned out to be crowded spots like gyms, pubs or nightclubs.
What lies ahead of us?
COVID-19 has not just wreaked havoc on global health. It has created a recession with record levels of deprivation and unemployment. Nations are striving to strike a balance which prevents the collapse of their economy while keeping people safe.
We need to stick strictly to the measures proven to work, or we risk a second or third wave of infection.
This need not mean never ending ‘lock down’. Now, we are urged to avoid the 3 Cs (Closed spaces, Crowded spaces, Close-contact settings), wear masks, protect the elderly and vulnerable, and embed physical distancing and strict hygiene.
PCR testing will assume a crucial role, detecting infectious virus in patients at the earliest stage. Since April there has been no new diagnosis of Covid-19 in Okinawa. We can conclude it is unlikely there are infected people here who risk spreading the virus. Hence, SARS-CoV-2 will return only if it is imported by visitors.
OIST has established PCR testing capability for Okinawans which could be used to identify travelers carrying, and potentially spreading, the virus. Should a case be detected it will be critical to identify all contacts, then isolate them. Otherwise there could be a ‘super spreader’ effect. This can be supported by contact-tracing apps, which are now in rapid development by software companies around the world.
We all want to get back to our pre-Covid-19 lives, but for a long time to come we will have to be disciplined, protect ourselves, protect others, and work within these conditions to keep the country and the economy running.