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          Phase 2 without letting our guard down

          The WHO “myth buster” guide

          The week beginning 4 May opens with a new phase, where we are starting to see a relaxation of lockdown measures in some countries: Italy, Spain, France and soon also the United Kingdom. But not just in Europe: also in the United States and Asia, where there will be a relaxation of lockdown measures in Australia, India and Malaysia. At the same time, caution is a must and, most of all, the recommendation of “social distancing” of at least one metre. Confirmed cases have now exceeded 3.5 million, and the emergency is certainly not over, but the number of people recovering and being discharged from hospitals is rising. In some countries, the virus compounds the ravages of war and the endemic underdevelopment of the healthcare system: in Afghanistan, for example, the Ministry of Health has sounded a new alarm on the spread of the virus, after a small local study with random testing in Kabul revealed that about one-third of the capital’s residents could be infected. Kabul is a large city which has seen thousands of displaced people come from all over the country due to the conflict and today has about 4 million inhabitants, many of whom do not have access to drinking water, electricity or other basic amenities.

          Meanwhile, scientists all around the world are working on a cure, but unfortunately, the development of vaccines and drugs is laborious, with the need for numerous trials and tests that need to be repeated. And the road ahead still seems very long. Here too, caution is essential, as the World Health Organization explains in relation to, for example, the pneumonia vaccinations, the pneumococcal vaccine and the Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) vaccine. These “do not provide protection against the new coronavirus. The virus is so new and different”, the WHO explains, “that it needs its own vaccine. Researchers are trying to develop a [suitable] vaccine”. Nonetheless, “although these vaccines are not effective against COVID-19, vaccination against respiratory illnesses is highly recommended to protect your health,” concludes the supranational organization that has dedicated a web page to the “myths” that unfortunately continue to circulate on the internet.

          On its Myth busters page (https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/advice-for-public/myth-busters), the organization warns about various stories that have been circulating in recent months: “While several drug trials are ongoing, there is currently no proof that hydroxychloroquine or any other drug can cure or prevent COVID-19”, writes the WHO, adding, “Do not under any circumstance spray or introduce bleach or any other disinfectant into your body. These substances can be poisonous if ingested and cause irritation and damage to your skin and eyes... Methanol, ethanol, and bleach are poisons. Drinking them can lead to disability and death.” The same goes for alcohol and its excessive consumption. In many parts of the world, there is still belief in “natural” remedies, which are in reality ineffective: “Hot peppers in your food, though very tasty, cannot prevent or cure COVID-19. The best way to protect yourself against the new coronavirus is to keep at least 1 metre away from others and to wash your hands frequently.” The same goes for garlic, a “healthy food that may have some antimicrobial properties”, but which cannot protect you against the virus. Also “Exposing yourself to the sun or to temperatures higher than 25°C degrees does not prevent the coronavirus disease”, and “cold weather and snow” cannot kill the new virus. The same is true for antibiotics that kill bacteria but not viruses.

          Many things may seem obvious, but this short, comprehensive guide is very useful: “People of all ages can be infected by the new coronavirus. Older people, and people with pre-existing medical conditions (such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease) appear to be more vulnerable”. The WHO concludes by advising “people of all ages to take steps to protect themselves from the virus”. Perhaps they should read this brief guide.