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What is the New Norm?

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Social Distancing of eggs

A look at how easing lockdown in the UK might look

In the UK, we are in our 7th week of lockdown, are we at all able to speculate what the ‘New Norm’ might look like?

Word on the street says school pupils of Primary 7 (Scotland) and Year 6 (England) age will be able to return to school from the 1st of June; a Guardian report suggests.

This could be digested differently in Scotland, with the 1st Minister able to make decisions separately if needed, from the rest of the UK. She has worked in coherence thus so far, however.

Some speculate that opening schools as early as June is a little impulsive, and in this sense; it is thankful that health is devolved to the Scottish government. 

It is crucial to keep an eye on Denmark, as reported in previous posts; it has already re-opened its primary schools. 

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And What of Denmark?

Denmark has seen an increase in the R rate-a measure to signify the number of transmissions, which needs to stay below 1. If the number stays below 1-the number of people subsequently affected by one infection, is less than 1. Whereas, in normal conditions-up, 3 people are affected by one infection. The R rate in Denmark has gone from 0.6 to 0.9 since the re-opening of schools and nurseries.

Although the R is still under 1, it is a little too close for comfort and suggests Denmark was perhaps too quick to bring schools back into the equation. The strategy there seems to have classes split into no more than 10 pupils, but full capacity seems to have been maintained; with students still playing together at break times.

And What of Nurseries?

And what of nurseries? It is very surprising Denmark has allowed nurseries to return since social distancing is practically impossible under the age of 4.

What do you do then? It is vital nurseries are available to people, in order for people to return to work. Yet, how do you maintain order within a nursery?

One nursery in London on BBC Breakfast News today reported some of the measures they are considering, in the lead up to re-opening. Masks have been trialed with children, but they found them too scary (I empathize). They were also querying the use of visors and the mandatory use of other PPE equipment. 

Having worked in nurseries myself-I do feel concerned about how safe this will be and how manageable? I feel numbers and variables will be the driving element in maintaining safety; according to the age of the children. To have any more than 3 toddlers for example in a room, to my mind-would be dangerous. 

For each year of a child, they can maintain a 3-5 minute attention span. (Summit Medical Group)

Toddlers therefore can only sustain attention for an absolute maximum of 10 minutes and most will not manage anywhere near this. As such, they cannot be expected to take part in a group activity for the entire duration of the visit, in order to keep them socially distanced. It would be harmful to them to limit exploration and freedom of movement which they need to thrive.

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This is going to be a logistical nightmare for the government, councils, and nurseries across the board. It will have a direct effect on how many people can return to work and at what capacity. Nurseries and schools will perhaps need to think of staggered attendance-10 school pupils per class on the Mon/Tue, the following 10 on the Wed/Thu, and the final 10 on Friday. Rotating the timetable around the following week.

And What of Families?

The closure of schools will already have had a colossal effect on working life for families, and it looks set to continue for some time. I feel that working from home will be the only logical way of managing the measures that will need to be taken in scheduling timetables.

Thankfully, they will coincide with the plans the government is considering when it comes to handling the numbers on public transport and in offices. It looks like there may be staggered work times as reported on Sky News (4th May 2020) for those who have to travel to work, otherwise, WFH will be highly encouraged.

As it is, many people are able to work from home; and have been doing so for some time. It is already the ‘New Norm’. Of course, parents do not usually have children at home whilst trying to work; and this understandably must be difficult, especially if they are young or need your support.

How is anyone meant to work and teach at the same time?

Now we are all well into the swing of a ‘different way of life. It would be hoped that families will have found a way to manage work and kids. I think people can only do the best they can, and employers can only ask for that. Delivering the same workload at home will simply be unobtainable for most families. It will massively rely on the counterbalance of both parents tag teaming and taking up the reins.

So, What is the New Norm?

For the time being, the ‘New Norm’ may be set to get stranger. Emerging out of quarantine like snails with parking attendants at their back. Everyday social interactions will have to be overseen. Even apps to record our interactions and whereabouts may become the ‘New Norm’. As of yet, we are not sure how this will all look.

So the ‘New Norm’ is yet unbeknownst, and forming as we speak. 

It is not surprising that many people will feel ill at ease with virus detection apps. Nevertheless, during this time, my gut feeling is: to cooperate and for that to come above all else.

Maybe this could be the New Norm.

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China

How China’s Zero COVID Policy Killed Thousands in Shanghai?

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Covid lockdown in China

Under China’s unbending virus control policy, the country’s most populous city, Shanghai is under full lockdown. In addition, an atrocious policy in place by the ruling regime is separating young children and babies from their parents when tested positive for COVID-19.

But, what has led one of the most developed cities to the nightmare, it is living in today? How China’s Zero-COVID policy is killing thousands across the nation? And is there a way out?

Shanghai and Zero COVID Policy: The Unfolding Nightmare

On many fronts, Shanghai, one of the biggest city globally, is under a strict lockdown. Amongst the deserted market and streets, over 26 million residents are confined to their homes and breaking through the silence, the drones dictating restrictions and instructions of the locked citizens.

Shortage of food, water, and medicines, over-burdened delivery network, and growing protest to open the lockdown depict the chaotic picture of Shanghai. But, Shanghai is not alone; across China, some 23 cities, homing 200 million people are living under full or partial lockdowns.

The impact closure poses a severe impact on the Chinese economy and global supply chain. The lockdowns in the first wave of COVID led to a historic collapse in economic activities in China, and now with the Omicron lockdown, indicators are plunging again.

But, despite the draconian lockdown and security measures, new COVID cases are shooting off the roof, reflecting the high transmissibility of the mutated virus.

What is China’s Zero COVID Policy

As one of the strictest steps taken toward curbing the spread of the contagious virus, China has once again adopted the Zero COVID policy.

The matric watched the number of cases found among people who aren’t yet in quarantines. Unfortunately, this figure may continue to climb in Shanghai, and the authorities will consider an outbreak contained until the indicator known as Zero infection in society reaches zero.

The current approach tries to reduce transmission and extend the time available.

China believes that removing sick people from society is the most effective way to stop the spread of the disease. Still, quarantine facilities are divisive, producing widespread concern and terror among residents.

The primarily variant resulting in the situation is China’s low vaccination rate for the elderly, especially amongst the most vulnerable category of citizen over 80-years-old( a little over 20%). Furthermore, to add fuel to the fire vaccination campaigns have been slowing down dramatically.

How Bad is the Situation in Shanghai?

Shanghai’s local government has some special autonomy under President Xi Jinping’s China; as a province-level city, it is officially under the supervision of the central government, but it has a unique status as the country’s financial capital and an emblem of China’s accomplishments for the rest of the world. 

The local administration had managed the pandemic adequately up until March, with no major breakouts. However, the quick arrival of the Omicron variety and the severe government actions accompanying it are pushing some residents to the edge.

Shanghai reported 27,719 new infections on April 14, a new record high for daily cases. But, astonishingly, 95% of these new infections are now among people in quarantine or living within a closed-loop system. The government has been testing the entire city’s population every day, and anyone who tests positive is removed from their homes and sent to centralized quarantine facilities.

The Chinese political leadership has put itself in a difficult situation by emphasizing the zero-COVID goal. If it persists, it will hamper the country’s economic recovery by exacting expenses that the people no longer consider justifiable.

However, if COVID-19 restrictions are relaxed, illnesses and fatalities will skyrocket as the virus spreads across a population lacking the protection observed in most other comparable nations.

When Will the Lockdowns End?

Once the zero COVID is achieved, Shanghai can start reopening the city. There is no timetable on when this can be achieved; however, with the new cases rising every day, it is most likely that the nightmarish lockdowns can continue for several more weeks.

Also Read: End of the Pandemic: Can We Live with COVID?

But, people are frustrated, mentally exhausted, and begging to get out. For many, this ordeal will shift how they view China as the future. While different variants of COVID killed millions around the globe, China remained a safe haven.

But, now the tables have turned.

The Urgent Needs for a Dynamic Zero-COVID Policy

Though the Chinese authorities will ultimately get the situation in Shanghai and around the country under control, the collateral damage created by the rigorous lockdown much outweighs the actual deaths inflicted by COVID at the moment.

As more cities in China sweep under lockdown, the country may again be cut off from both the inside and the outside. Moreover, what residents have gone through for the past few weeks can negatively impact their physical and mental health. As a result, the government must likewise place a premium on citizens’ mental and physical well-being.

The most vulnerable individuals should be vaccinated first, and strong safety measures should be put in place to allow regular life to continue in the state. Without these changes, the country’s economy would plummet, local firms would be forced to close, unemployment will soar, and public opinion will shift.

As a result, it’s critical to implement a dynamic zero-COVID policy that allows residents to normally go about their daily lives.

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End of the Pandemic: Can We Live with COVID?

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A health care worker in a face shield.

Sajid Javid, UK’s health care secretary, warns COVID could be here forever. Many European countries are calling for a new approach, claiming the infections must not be dealt with as a health emergency but an illness. So, is the pandemic approaching its end? Is it time we learn to live with COVID?

Pandemic to Endemic

After two years of multiple crippling waves, strict lockdowns, and millions dead, several countries are ready to leave the pandemic in the past. The new Omicron wave is breaking infection records across the world, but the hospitalization need and deaths are way down compared to previous waves, especially for vaccinated individuals.

The low mortality is sparking hope in many health care experts that COVID infections can now be treated as an endemic. We have learned to live with many illnesses in the past, and officials are proposing to add COVID to the list.

Also Read: Will Annual COVID-19 Boosters Become the New Norm?

Despite the skyrocketing infections, many countries are easing the curbs, while countries like Ireland and the U.K. are dropping most of the restrictions.

Contrary to the European countries, the World Health Organization is declaring the pandemic far from over. According to the officials, the death rate of the current variant is still too high to go easy on the infections.

“Now is not the time to give up on the strategy. The virus (omicron) is circulating at a very intense level around the world.”

Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, American epidemiologist

The Forever Pandemic

Omicron complicates the question of when this pandemic will end, but pandemics do eventually end. Yet coexisting with a virus as contagious as the Coronavirus would not be as easy as flipping a switch.

Also Read: COVID19: 90% Countries Still Facing Disruption In Providing Essential Health Care Services

As an exhausted world tries to stem the spread of the ultra-contagious omicron mutant, cases are at an all-time high and causing chaos. However, this time we won’t have to start from scratch.

Although vaccines do not always prevent mild infections, they offer strong protection against serious illness. Omicron does not seem to be as dangerous as some earlier variants. Those who survive it will have a chance to bolster their defense against other variations of the virus that are still circulating. And perhaps the next mutant will emerge, too.

Also Read: The Looming Danger of COVID-19’s Delta variant

It won’t be long before the World Health Organization determines when enough countries have curb COVID-19 cases sufficiently – or at least, deaths and hospitalization have fallen – to officially deem the pandemic over. However, the exact threshold is unclear.

In that case, some parts of the world will still struggle – particularly those without enough vaccines or treatments – while other parts will be able to transition more easily to what researchers call an “endemic” state.

Could More Deadly Variants Emerge?

The coronavirus is not certain of remaining less deadly: It might evolve again and become more dangerous. Scientists in Sweden share that concern, writing in an opinion piece for POLITICO: “Allowing large amounts of contamination to circulate is like opening Pandora’s box of unpleasant surprises. The last variant we have seen is hardly the last.”

Also Read: New coronavirus variant emerging from the UK: how dangerous is it?

According to Professor David Heymann of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, there is always the risk of a dangerous mutation. However, he noted that the high level of immunity in the U.K. should guide a different approach. We should perform our own risk assessments instead of relying on top-down decision-making methods like lockdowns. You could, for instance, test yourself before leaving the house for dinner, or avoid potentially infected people if there is a risk, says David.

“The pandemic is no where near over. With the incredible growth of Omicron globaly, new variants are likely to emerge.”

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General WHO

Fighting & Living with the COVID

Despite the fact that industrialized nations actively aim to protect their populations by boosting their vaccinations for adults and extending vaccinations to children, we can no longer expect to inject people every four to six months in the face of new variants. To counter this threat, vaccinations will have to be provided annually – preferably with products that are effective against all types of Coronaviruses – and repeated exposure to an infection that is certain to become endemic sooner or later.

In the world “living with COVID,” governments and regulators should encourage the innovation of new vaccine technologies that will complement Moderna and BioNTech/Pfizer’s mRNA products duopoly. Furthermore, more investment should be made in antiviral drugs that might play a greater role in suppressing symptoms among infected people.

Also Read: Skills to acquire to survive through COVID 19 pandemic

At the beginning of 2020, we might have had a slim chance of eliminating Covid-19, but they are long gone. Controlling the pandemic has been justified so far as a global health emergency; however, they cannot continue forever.

Too many collateral damages would result, including harm to social cohesion, mental health and wellbeing, and the global economy. Sars-Cov-2 and its descendants will require more resilience in the coming year so that the most vulnerable can be protected while causing less disruption.

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Plastic Pollution: Environmental Impact of COVID-19 Pandemic

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A facemask lying on the beach.

2020 was supposed to be the “Supper Year” for nature. The world was all set for major opportunities to bring nature back from the verge. And then the catastrophe happened, Coronavirus, setting long-held plans for battling climate change back. And, now the pandemic is adding more complexities to the already dire crisis: Plastic Pollution.

2022: The New Dawn

After falling significantly due to the great lockdowns, Carbon Dioxide emissions are expected to return to the pre-pandemic level in 2022. China has already surpassed its emission due to the extensive use of coal.

Also Read: Air pollution spiking risks of infertility: An inevitable issue

The coronavirus crisis has only given the environment a small intermission. Now an unprecedented consumption boom, encouraged by the leaders to boost the economy, is fueling the demand. Furthermore, as a safety measure, people have started avoiding public transportation and driving more.

But, the most visible legacy of the pandemic, plastic waste, is filling water bodies with toxins.

Masks: Life-Saving Plastic Pollution?

Do you wear masks? How many masks do you own? Are all your masks reusable?

The recent popularity of masks has made them an integral part of our lives. Without a shadow of a doubt, it saves lives and protects us from infections. Yet, the disposal of used masks has been sparking major waste management and plastic pollution discussions worldwide, especially in South Asia.

Also Read: Plastic Pollution: How Vulnerable Communities Are Adversely Affected By Plastic Wastes

A new form of wastes is now turning up into the ocean, masks. Whether higher-grade respiratory masks or basic surgical masks and single-use gloves, these used clinical wastes all belong in incinerators. According to an estimate, over 1.5 million plastic masks ended up in oceans. just in 2021.

Face masks, gloves, and wipes are composed of a variety of plastic fibers, primarily polypropylene, which remains in the environment for decades, possibly centuries, forming smaller and smaller microplastics and nano plastics. According to a study in Environmental Advances, one face mask releases as many as 173,000 microfibers per day into the sea.

Single-Use Plastic Packaging

In spite of the closure of physical shops and financial uncertainty, online sales of goods are on the rise even though consumption (and packaging) may have declined overall. There has been an increase in the use of plastic and another single-use packaging for parcel deliveries from e-commerce.

Also during the lockdown, there has been a decline in the use of single-use plastic containers for food. As many restaurants have shifted to takeout services, packaging has increased and commuting, traveling, and leisure activities decreased. This may have reduced the demand for on-the-go food and drinks.

But the staggering spike in at-home deliveries, drying up recycling market, and economics of plastics have added more to the complexities.

Efforts to curb plastic waste have come at a complicated time with regard to PPE litter. The ocean’s plastic waste is expected to triple, and there is no clear solution in sight. However, the shift would reduce the projected tripling of plastics by just 7 percent if every corporation kept its pledge to use more recycled plastics.

Due to the pandemic, disposable packaging has also increased as people purchase more takeout food. Plastic bag bans have been suspended because of fears that reusable bags will spread the virus. Similarly, a third of recycling companies in the United States have closed due to cash-strapped municipal budget cuts.

Elevated Plastic Pollution

Even before the pandemic, South Asia was the largest source of plastic wastes. India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh are amongst the top 20 countries notorious for creating the most mismanaged plastic waste.

The Ganges and Indus, flowing through these countries, are listed as some of the most polluted rivers systems, swallowing over 90% of the region’s plastic waste. A report from Washington Post reveals that the world has created about 8 million tons of plastic during the pandemic, most of which are now in the oceans.

Also Read: Global Garbage Crisis: How is the World Drowning in its Own Trash?

Littered masks and gloves are carried like tumbleweeds into rivers and streams, where they reach the sea. As a result, the presence of sea turtles has been documented on beaches in South America, river outlets in Jakarta Bay, in Bangladesh, on the coast of Kenya, and on Hong Kong’s uninhabited Soko Islands. In addition, wasted personal protective equipment has clogged street drains from New York City to Nairobi and is clogging Vancouver, British Columbia’s municipal sewage system.

Plastic Pollution: No Silver Bullet

Now, entering 2022, the super year for nature is still on the waiting list. A single silver bullet can’t solve the plastic pollution problem globally across the rivers and oceans. For sustainable production, management, and disposal, plastics require interventions at all stages of their lifecycle: from production and preventing contamination to solid waste management and transitioning to a circular economy.

Also Read: Microplastics: The Miraculous Solutions to the Toxic Danger

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, plastic pollution has been exacerbated in Asia. The World Bank is working to reduce plastic pollution in South Asian nations for the billions of people whose livelihoods rely on clean rivers and seas. However, to recover from the pandemic in a greener and more resilient manner, countries, especially the most vulnerable ones, will need new policies, investments, and innovations.

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