The news announced on the evening of the 18th of March 2020 that there are three confirmed cases of Covid-19 (Coronavirus) in Mauritius will have scared many and angered others who believed our borders should have been closed some time ago. The Covid-19 pandemic seems to have been the only thing we have been talking about recently, with good reason, as this disease is highly contagious and is causing fear and panic worldwide. Covid-19 appears to have fundamentally changed the world, and how we live. By mid-March 2020, the virus has affected 171 countries, which includes over 215,000 cases, of which nearly 84,000 have recovered and nearly 9,000 have died. China, Italy and Iran are currently the most affected nations.


In Mauritius a travel ban was already in place for foreigners from Reunion, the EU, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, but since the confirmation that our island has been exposed to Covid-19, our borders have been closed to ALL travellers for the next two weeks at least, from the 19th of March, and all educational institutions are to be closed for the foreseeable future. Many countries around the world have also chosen to do the same,  as well as restrict movement for anything but essential activities, encouraging people to self-isolate, work from home when possible and avoid meeting people socially, and certainly maintaining a safe ‘social distance’ of at least 1 to 2 metres (3 -6 feet) to avoid spreading the virus. It is time we start doing the same in Mauritius if we want to contain the spread of the disease.


Coronaviruses are actually the global term given to a wide range of viruses that include the common cold to more severe viruses such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV), of which there were significant outbreaks of both in 2002 and 2012 respectively. At this point in time it is difficult to get an accurate measure of the fatality rate of Covid-19 as there are likely many mild cases that are going unreported, but scientists estimate it is around 1%, which is significantly lower than that of SARS (9%) or MERS (35%). However where Covid-19 is understandably causing panic is in the number of cases that are rising daily as it is highly contagious with as yet no cure or vaccine. Worldwide and in Mauritius people have been panic buying as a result, clearing shelves of staple food items and hand soap and hand sanitizer. This kind of behaviour will put more people in danger however and we must realise that the best way to combat this disease is to be considerate to each other and ensure we follow genuine expert advice rather than social media. Read our guide below with information gathered from reliable sources so that you can be better prepared to fight this virus and sort the facts from the fiction.

  • Practice Social Distancing to stop the spread of coronavirus (Covid-19) - Maintain 1 to 2 metres (3ft - 6ft) distance at all times in public
  • Masks and gloves can protect against the spread of the infection
  • Wash your hands frequently and use hand sanitizer when soap and water is not available
  • Covid-19, also known as coronavirus has been confirmed in Mauritius

What you need to know

Advice to help combat and avoid spreading Covid-19

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol if soap and water are not available.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw away the tissue
  • If you must cough or sneeze and a tissue is not available, do so into your elbow.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Self-isolate - stay home when you are sick or if anyone in your family is sick. Most people with the virus have mild symptoms that do not need medical intervention.
  • Practice social distancing – maintain a distance of approximately 1 to 2 metres (3-6 feet) from the next person, do not attend large gatherings, avoid public transport when possible, refrain from socialising, avoid shaking hands, hugging or kissing by way of greeting. Remember the incubation period is anything from 1 to 14 days, so you could be sick without showing any symptoms for some time, but you could be passing on the infection to those who are more vulnerable unknowingly.
  • Work from home if it is possible.
  • Do not panic buy – it is unnecessary. Not everyone can afford to stock up on groceries, including those on low wages or a pension. Remember to avoid spreading the disease, EVERYONE needs to wash their hands… so buying up all the soap and hand sanitizer is somewhat counter-intuitive!
  • As more and more people will be self-isolating, spare a thought for those who are alone, and/or unable to go to the shops. If you can help a neighbour by taking some groceries to them, do so, even if it’s just a phone call to help make the isolation more bearable. 


Fact or Fiction?

Fiction: The coronavirus does not produce cold symptoms such as a stuffy and runny nose and a chesty cough.

Fact: The most commonly reported symptoms of Covid-19 are fever, fatigue, and a dry cough. However, there are variations in symptoms and some patients may present with aches and pains, nasal congestion, a runny nose, sore throat or diarrhoea. These symptoms are generally mild and begin gradually. Some people may become infected but will not develop any symptoms or feel unwell as the incubation period is anything from 1 to 14 days. Most people (approximately 80%) recover from Covid-19 without requiring any special treatment. Around 1 out of 6 people who get Covid-19 become seriously ill and suffer from respiratory distress. Older people, and those with underlying medical issues like high blood pressure, heart problems or diabetes, are more susceptible to developing a serious illness like pneumonia. If you develop the emergency warning signs for Covid-19, such as persistent pain or pressure in the chest, confusion, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing seek medical attention


In Mauritius the government has issued guidelines advising that if you are experiencing symptoms and you fall into the category of vulnerable people, i.e. suffering from cancer, diabetes, immuno-suppression, high blood pressure, heart disease, or chronic respiratory illnesses, do not simply go to hospital but call the special Covid-19 hotline 24/7: 8924 and they will direct you as to what you should do next.

If you have been in contact with someone diagnosed with Covid-19, call the hotline for further guidance.


Fiction: ‘Expert’ advice from ‘Taiwan Experts,’ ‘Stanford University,’ or ‘Stanford Hospital Board’ and so on! 

Fact: Beware of social media posts that have gone viral on the internet claiming to offer expert advice for beating Covid-19. 


Fiction: Sipping water every 15 minutes will prevent the virus from entering your airway and lungs.

Fact: While drinking water regularly is good for your general health, it will not prevent the virus from entering your respiratory system.


Fiction: Holding your breath for 10 seconds is a simple way of checking if you have Covid-19. 

Fact: This stems from the idea that if you can hold your breath comfortably without coughing or feeling discomfort then you do not have fibrosis, and therefore do not suffer from Covid-19. However, pulmonary fibrosis is NOT a symptom of Covid-19, and being able to hold your breath for 10 seconds is also not an accurate indicator of fibrosis.


Fiction: Vitamin C and other supplements can boost your immune system to combat Covid-19

Fact: There are a lot of conflicting recommendations concerning supplements and vitamins for immune health, however, there is no evidence at this time that taking supplements will protect you from Covid-19 or aid recovery. Most people should be able to obtain all of their necessary vitamins and minerals with a healthy diet.


Fiction: To avoid contracting the virus do not eat fried or spicy food

Fact: There have been no official directives stating that fried or spicy food make you more prone to catching the virus.


Fiction: Drink water often to flush the virus into your stomach where the acid will kill it

Fact: It is not actually possible to ‘flush out’ the virus from your airway by drinking water. The idea that drinking water will push the virus into your stomach where it will be killed is not based on any scientific fact. But do stay hydrated.


Fiction: It is not safe to receive a package from an area where Covid-19 has been reported.

Fact: The probability of an infected person contaminating commercial goods is low and the risk of contracting the virus that causes Covid-19 from a package that has been moved, travelled, and exposed to different conditions and temperatures is also low.


Fiction: We can catch Covid-19 from our pets! 

Fact: There has been one reported instance of a dog infected in Hong Kong, but there is no evidence that any domestic pets can transmit the virus as it is mainly spread via the infected droplets of a person coughing, sneezing or speaking. Do NOT abandon your pets!


Fiction: The virus survives only 12 hours on surfaces.

Fact: It is not known at this time how long exactly Covid-19 survives on surfaces, but as it appears to behave the same way as other coronaviruses, studies indicate that the virus could remain on surfaces for anything from a few hours to several days. So if you suspect a surface is infected, clean it with a simple disinfectant to kill the virus, and regularly clean frequently used surfaces, including laptop keyboards, mice and mobile phones! When you are out and about, if you are unable to avoid touching surfaces such as poles on public transport, do not touch your face, and ensure you use hand sanitizer afterwards.


Fiction: Wear a face mask to protect yourself.

Fact: Face masks are actually more useful for protecting others than yourself. Only wear a mask if you are ill with Covid-19 symptoms (especially coughing) or taking care of someone who may have Covid-19. Disposable face masks should only be worn once. There is a world-wide shortage of masks so if you are not ill or are not looking after someone who is ill then you are wasting a mask. Studies so far indicate that the virus is mainly transmitted through contact with respiratory droplets rather than through the air. So when a person infected with Covid-19 coughs or sneezes, those droplets land on an object or surface, and other people can catch the virus by touching those objects or surfaces, then touching their eyes, nose or mouth. If you stand too close to a person who coughs or sneezes it is also possible to breathe in droplets. This is when social distancing becomes important, which means standing at least 1 to 2 metres (or 3-6 feet) away from a person who is sick to avoid contamination, and of course, avoid shaking hands, hugging or kissing by way of greeting.


Fiction: Get a flu vaccine, it will help combat the coronavirus.

Fact: There is no current evidence that the flu vaccine will combat Covid-19, as it is caused by the novel coronavirus, and the flu is caused by influenza A and influenza B strains. Precautions for both viruses are similar though: frequent hand washing with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds, cleaning frequently touched surfaces, avoiding close contact (social distancing) and staying home if you are sick. 


Fiction: Eat garlic to prevent infection by coronavirus.

Fact: While garlic is a healthy food that may have antimicrobial properties, there is no evidence that it can prevent infection by Covid-19. Eating excessive amounts of garlic can actually cause throat inflammation.


Fiction: Drinking hot drinks such as tea and coffee several times a day / lying in hot baths / using hair dryers / hotter temperatures in summer will neutralise the virus.

Fact: Trying to heat your body to kill the virus from within is ineffective, once the virus is in your body, there’s no way to kill it, you have to rely on your immune system. As far as outside temperatures are concerned, it is true that the common cold and flu are less likely to propagate in warmer weather, however as Covid-19 has been reported in hot and humid countries as well, the World Health Organisation confirms that it can be transmitted in all areas of the world and it is as yet unknown what effect warmer weather in the northern hemisphere will have on the virus. Hot baths or drinking hot liquids will also have no effect, since your body temperature should remain the same unless you are already unwell. It’s worth noting that temperatures of around 60 degrees are required to kill the virus, much hotter than bath water should be, but a good idea for washing clothes to kill any viruses on fabrics.


Fiction: Avoid ice cream and other cold foods to prevent catching Covid-19.

Fact: Not eating ice cream or other cold foods does not stop the onset of Covid-19. 


Fiction: Taking antibiotics will cure Covid-19

Fact: Antibiotics are only to be used for bacterial infections, not for viruses, they are not effective against Covid-19.


Fiction: Taking ibuprofen can make Covid-19 worse

Fact: There have been false stories circulating of young people infected with Covid-19 that have severe symptoms but no underlying diseases, but they all took ibuprofen to bring down fevers. While there has been no research into the links between ibuprofen and Covid-19, it is linked to complications in other respiratory illnesses, though no causation has been proven. However medical experts advise caution when using ibuprofen and recommend paracetamol to bring down a fever instead.


Fiction: A vaccine will be available soon.

Fact: Around the world scientists are working to develop an effective vaccine for Covid-19, more quickly than has happened with other epidemics. Some testing is already underway in animals and human trials may start soon, which are known as phase one trials. At this stage only a small number of volunteers are involved to see if the  vaccine triggers an immune response and whether the given dose causes side effects, and this can be completed quite quickly. However, the following phases will involve thousands of volunteers and will examine more closely its efficacy, and will take longer. Obtaining a commercially available vaccine within a year would be extremely quick and unprecedented. The US government’s chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, believes that a working vaccine would not be produced in time for the current outbreak, and is more likely to be available in a year or 18 months.


Hand washing protocol 

Washing your hands properly removes dirt, viruses and bacteria to stop them contaminating other people and objects, which can spread illness.

 


You should wash your hands:

  • after using the bathroom, changing a nappy or handling rubbish
  • before and after handling raw foods like chicken, meat and vegetables
  • before you eat or handle food
  • after blowing your nose, sneezing or coughing
  • before and after treating a cut or wound
  • after touching animals, including pets, their food and after cleaning their cages or bedding

You should wash your hands for a minimum of 20 seconds, the amount of time it takes to sing "Happy Birthday" twice:

  1. Wet your hands with water.
  2. Apply enough soap to cover your hands.
  3. Rub your hands together.
  4. Use 1 hand to rub the back of the other hand and clean in between the fingers. Do the same with the other hand.
  5. Rub your hands together and clean in between your fingers.
  6. Rub the back of your fingers against your palms.
  7. Rub each of your thumbs with the other hand. 
  8. Rub the tips of your fingers on the palm of your other hand. 
  9. Rinse your hands thoroughly with water.
  10. Dry your hands completely with a disposable towel, germs thrive in moisture.
  11. Use the disposable towel to turn off the tap.

If you do not have immediate access to soap and water when out and about then use alcohol-based hand sanitizer if available. For hand sanitizer to be effective against germs it must be at least 60% alcohol. They do not however get rid of all types of germs and may not be as effective if your hands are visibly dirty or greasy, or if you have been handling harmful chemicals like pesticides or heavy metals. They are effective at reducing contamination in hospital settings, so always use the sanitizer made available when you are visiting someone in hospital. To use hand sanitizer effectively, apply the recommended amount (according to the label), rub your hands together ensuring the gel is applied all over your hands and fingers until dry. This should take approximately 20 seconds. Remember hand sanitizers are flammable and can cause alcohol poisoning if ingested. Keep out of reach of young children and supervise their use.


Remember: 

The important thing is not to panic and follow expert advice. You may think that you are fit and healthy and not at risk of getting seriously ill, but you could still carry the virus and pass it on to someone who has a compromised immune system. The best way of combating this virus is to be kind and considerate to others, and the ideal way to do that is to not put them at risk by taking precautionary measures that will protect you and them. All of these efforts are important to ‘flatten the curve,’ meaning that instead of there being an overwhelming number of cases in one go in a short period of time, which puts a strain on health services, the cases are spread over a longer period and health services are better able to cope.  It is not all doom and gloom however, one benefit of social isolation is that pollution levels have dropped with less cars on the streets and planes in the skies! Furthermore by following expert advice, you are less likely to become infected with the virus or infect others, and remember that in October 2019, Scientists ranked Mauritius 12th on a list of the safest places on the planet to be during an apocalypse, so let’s try to keep it that way!