Dr Caroline Clarinval: We'd like everyone, everywhere, to understand what their role is in this fight against COVID-19
It is almost six months since the World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic. A number of the confirmed cases worldwide exceeded on Monday the figure of 27 million people. Some experts predict a second wave of COVID-19 that will come with a seasonal flu in autumn and winter. Is it will be wilder and when will it happen? How to protect yourself and others? WHO Country Office Representative to Kazakhstan Dr Caroline Clarinval responds these and other questions and gives recommendations in a interview with Strategy2050.kz correspondent.
Firstly, what is a second wave?
If you take pressure off the virus, that is, if measures to prevent transmission are eased, the virus bounces back. That is the reality and we have seen this across the European Region. You can call it a second wave. You can call it a second spike, a flare up, anything you like. And that is what we will say to countries… suppress, suppress, suppress the virus. If individuals and governments continue to do what they can to suppress the virus effectively, we can safely open up societies. As countries work to suppress COVID-19 we must further accelerate our work to rapidly develop and equitably distribute the additional tools which we need to stop this pandemic.
Is a second wave of COVID-19 inevitable? And how bad could it be?
What we all need to get our heads around is this is a new virus and it can behave differently than what we call seasonal flu for example. Thinking in terms of virus waves is not helpful. In countries that have managed to suppress transmission, it is important to quickly identify any new cases or clusters so that a new cluster of cases does not get amplified into community transmission. For this, we need to make sure we test, treat and isolate cases, and trace and quarantine contacts so that any resurgence can be picked up quickly and can be suppressed. A data-driven approach is also important.
Some evidence suggests that an estimated 10-20% of cases are responsible for 80% of transmission. Detailed cluster investigations are vital for identifying and stopping super-spreader events. As some countries start to reopen their societies and economies, WHO strongly encourages individuals, communities, and nations to take measures to reduce transmission, extend testing and contact tracing, and provide optimal care for every case.
Will a second wave come to Kazakhstan? Is the country properly prepared for the real risk of a second wave of the infection?
COVID-19 has demonstrated that health systems must be well prepared to ensure access to essential health care services is not put at risk and that acquired health gains are not lost. Kazakhstan has demonstrated that its proactive approach to mitigating the impact of this crisis has allowed the country to effectively respond to this outbreak. Health care workers have gone above and beyond to care for patients. The behavior of the society and the rigor with which people will adhere to the recommendations of hand hygiene, respiratory etiquette and physical distancing will play an essential role in the fight against COVID-19. This responsibility is shared - and we can all contribute and play an important part.
For most regions, while restrictions on movements will be eased, public health and social distancing measures remain in place. In this regard, we continue to insist on further adherence to the main recommendations of national health authorities and WHO to break the chain of transmission and prevent the spread of the virus among the population.
What factors determine a potential second wave of COVID-19 infection?
This virus likes an opportunity to spread and if we give it an opportunity it will do so. What we're trying to express beyond the all-of-government, all-of-society approach, strong leadership, clear national plans, and strong local implementation especially where it is needed, is to empower communities.
We would like everyone, everywhere, to understand what their role is in this fight against COVID-19 and how to manage your own risk in terms of what you do every day, in terms of deciding if you can do certain things. For example, if you're asked to stay home, please stay home but if you do need to leave your house, please follow the national guidance. If you are asked to wear a mask when you go in shops or you go on public transportation, please do so. If you can avoid crowded places, if you can avoid indoor settings with poor ventilation, do so and please manage your own risk.
What is most important is to reduce the opportunity for you to become exposed to this virus because not only are you preventing an opportunity for yourself to get infected, you are preventing the opportunity for the virus to pass from you to somebody else who could potentially be more vulnerable.
Will a second wave be the same as the first?
The virus is still circulating. We know that most of the population remains susceptible to infection and so we must do everything that we can to prevent infections and save lives. The good news is that each of us has a role to play in supressing the virus and 8 months into this pandemic we know what it takes to control it.
Physical distancing, wear a mask where appropriate, make sure you practice respiratory etiquette, avoid crowded settings, follow national guidance; be informed; all this needs to be done every day. We must all remain vigilant and not let down our guard.
While it is hard to predict what will happen, what I can say is that as the flu season approaches across the European Region we will be monitoring closely both COVID-19 and flu transmission.
We also recommend that people get vaccinated against the flu.
When will a second wave happen? Will autumn and winter make it worse?
What this virus has clearly demonstrated is that if you take the pressure off the virus the virus bounces back. That is the reality. The COVID-19 pandemic is currently unfolding in “one big wave” with no evidence that it follows seasonal variations common to influenza and other coronaviruses, such as the common cold.
Will the virus become wilder?
This virus requires a collective action to stop transmission. It is difficult to diagnose based on symptoms alone, to distinguish between it and other respiratory illnesses unless you have adequate and immediate testing available.
How to protect yourself and others from a new wave of the coronavirus outbreak?
The best way out of this pandemic is to take a comprehensive approach; find, isolate, test and care for every case, trace and quarantine every contact, equip and train health workers and educate and empower communities to protect themselves and others. Do it all: testing, physical distancing, contact tracing, wearing masks.
Countries that have adopted this comprehensive approach have suppressed transmission and saved lives. Flareups are to be expected as countries start to lift restrictions, but countries that have the systems in place to apply a comprehensive approach should be able to contain these flareups locally and avoid reintroducing widespread restrictions.
Populations play a big role in the control of this outbreak. People can take a number of precautionary measures such as frequent hand washing with soap or hand sanitizer, covering with an elbow or disposable tissue when coughing, maintaining a physical distancing of at least 1 meter from others, avoiding crowded places and closed spaces. Stay home if you have respiratory symptoms (body temperature, cough, etc.). Stay informed - stay up to date on the WHO and national authorities' website for updated recommendations.
Thank you for the interview!