The Coronavirus outbreak has affected virtually everyone on earth in some way or another, redefining social interaction, work productivity and our capacity to enjoy something as simple as the outdoors. With nationwide lockdown expected to go on for some time in countries inflicted severely by the outbreak, such as the UK and US, many people are looking at their governments and public health organisations as a source of complete truth and accountability.
Whilst research into the relationship of contracting and transmitting COVID-19 has been somewhat cloudy and inconclusive, the real facts and evidence on the virus are constantly being discovered and debated. Scientists and health professionals all over the globe are working across the clock to not just try and find a vaccine but to explore the intricate details of the virus and why it has become so deadly. Whilst this has been resoundingly applauded across society, the release of findings, guidelines and stance of governments have been an embarrassing mismatch of contradictory information.
We examine some of the claims voiced by experts and government officials regarding COVID-19 over the course of the last few months, whilst shedding light on certain lifestyle choices which could impact contracting the virus.
Clear As Mud
Let’s rewind back to the start of the year, when regular routine was operated across the globe, except in China where a newfound virus threatened to damage normality in all senses. With news bulletins partially mentioning the outbreak of this unknown virus, government officials played down the prospect of it having a catastrophic effect.
As the virus spread across the world, In the UK PM Boris Johnson ignored advice from the World Health Organization (WHO) to refrain from shaking hands by boasting he was in close contact with those affected, “”I’m shaking hands continuously. I was at a hospital the other night where I think there were actually a few coronavirus patients and I shook hands with everybody, you’ll be pleased to know. I continue to shake hands.” He went on to assert, “I want to stress that for the vast majority of the people of this country, we should be going about our business as usual.”
A large proportion of the news relating to COVID-19 over the course of early March, when the outbreak began to hit western nations, was that the disease only really affected elderly people and that younger, fit adults and children shouldn’t need to worry. Going by what we know now, this was greatly underestimated as despite the majority of deaths attributed to older people with underlying health conditions, younger people who are deemed healthy have still experienced severe symptoms of the virus and have required intensive care. A staggering 40% of patients requiring medical attention were in the age bracket of 20-54 in the US, according to CDC statistics.
Whilst the initial hypothesis that this disease affects older people far greater than younger age groups, there’s no denying that governments miscommunication on the severity of the virus on all age groups has potentially costs thousands of lives.
Furthermore, isolation and social distancing guidelines have become an increasingly contentious and confusing issue. In the UK under the sanctioned lockdown, citizens are required to self-isolate except to:
- Only go outside for food, health reasons or work (but only if you cannot work from home).
- If you go out, stay 2 metres (6ft) away from other people at all times.
Despite the resounding nature of these measures, the clarity of rhetoric used can be construed in many ways. For example, it’s stressed that a person can go out to exercise once daily alone or with members of their household, but no time measures are attached. This essentially means under law, a person or family could stay outside for as long as they wish over a 24 hour period as long as they’re staying active.
As well as this, the fact that most unessential businesses have been forced to close highlights the seriousness of the situation, however construction workers are deemed to be key workers and obviously cannot conduct their work from home in the majority of circumstances. This has led many labourers having to go to work to make ends meet, whilst the 2m social distancing measure implied is nigh on impossible for many who have to work in close proximity. This complete lack of disregard for a huge sector of the economy has again put thousands of people at risk of contracting the virus.
Up In Smoke
Whilst governments and public health officials have been inconsistent in their approach to tackling the pandemic, in regards to smokers (who make up over 1 billion worldwide), the message has been resoundingly clear.
The WHO states, ‘Smokers are likely to be more vulnerable to COVID-19 as the act of smoking means that fingers (and possibly contaminated cigarettes) are in contact with lips which increases the possibility of transmission of virus from hand to mouth. Smokers may also already have lung disease or reduced lung capacity which would greatly increase risk of serious illness.’
This is further echoed by UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock who says, “It is abundantly clear from the research into previous coronaviruses that smoking makes the impact of a coronavirus worse.”
It’s also highly evidenced that smoking causes the immune system to weaken, whilst the fact that Coronavirus is a respiratory disease clearly highlights that smoking can have huge effects on those who have contracted the virus or developed symptoms.
This resonant assertion whilst respected, doesn’t cover the borderline product of e-cigarettes. Vaping is seen by many, including PHE, NHS, Cancer Research and The British Lung Foundation as a viable harm-reducing alternative to nicotine consumption. Yet many believe vaping could transmit COVID-19, especially through vape clouds.
Rosanna O’Connor, Director of Tobacco, Alcohol and Drugs at PHE refutes this logic, “Public Health England’s 2018 independent evidence review found that to date, there have been no identified health risks of passive vaping to bystanders. There is currently no evidence that coronavirus can be caught from exposure to e-cigarette vapour.”
In line with this, Leading academic Physician and Professor of Medicine at the University of California, Dr Neal Benowitz states,” It is my understanding that exhaled e-cigarette vapor consists of very small particles of water, propylene glycol and glycerin and flavor chemicals, not droplets of saliva. The vaping aerosol evaporates very quickly, while particles that are emitted when coughing or sneezing are large particles that persist in the air for a relatively long period of time. Thus, I would not think that vapers present any risk of spreading COVID-19, unless they are coughing when they exhale the vapor.”
Whilst vaping is only recommended for smokers looking to make the switch over, now could be the ideal time for those who smoke cigarettes to change over their habit. Vape Club’s dedicated guide section provides an extensive knowledge on all aspects of vaping for those unsure of the harm-reducing benefits when compared to tobacco.
Of course, many of us can feel like we’re left out in the cold with all of the differing opinions and claims floating around. It’s essential to be able to use common sense in the majority of social situations, with a large proportion of the population across the world adhering to guidelines and ultimately taking pressure of health services.
It’s also worth pointing out whilst the public couldn’t really conceive what was about to come in the early stages of Coronavirus, governments and health experts were briefed on the grimness of the situation about to hit as early as last year. This complete unpreparedness and lack of initiative has unfortunately paid dividends at the cost of thousands, potentially millions of lives, in what will inevitably come to be the biggest health crisis of our generation.
There is still a lot more to discover regarding COVID-19 and its existence, which will no doubt come to light in the ensuing months and years.