Amid the COVID-19 outbreak, Mexico should learn from Europe’s mistakes

In contrast with Europe, South Korea and Japan acted quickly and avoided a grim scenario

Amid the COVID-19 outbreak, Mexico should learn from Europe’s mistakes
According to the John Hopkins University, around 235,701 COVID-19 cases have been confirmed worldwide - Photo: EFE
English 19/03/2020 14:38 Berenice González Durand Mexico City Actualizada 14:47
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In the Lombardy region, one of the most prosperous ones in Italy, people are usually out and about. In cities such as Milan, social life is intense. People have breakfast at a cafe. When they finish work, they head out for a drink with friends before meeting with another group of friends for dinner. This Italian region has one of the lowest birth rates, as well as the largest number of adults and seniors who travel often. A busy social life is common but it was also one of the main factors behind the COVID-19 outbreak that has killed 3,405 and infected 41,035 people; Italy now has more fatalities than China.

According to the John Hopkins University, around 235,701 COVID-19 cases have been confirmed worldwide. While the outbreak in China seems to be stabilized with over 60,000 patients who have recovered from the illness but in Europe, the cases have multiplied and in the Americas, the cases are increasing.

So what could Mexico learn from the countries facing the deadly virus?

Italian Dr. Cristiano Ravalli, who worked in Milan for two decades and currently works in Nice, France, says that one of the biggest problems in Italy was that the first case was detected inside a hospital. That patient infected a lot of people whose health was vulnerable and who then also spread the virus quickly.

“Nevertheless, the problem is Italy also has a large population of older people who is very active and travels all over the country, although this is probably not the only factor, there are other European countries who have similar numbers to those of Italy since the detection of the first case. What will happen in Spain or France in a week?”

Ravalli explains that in France, until March 13, the government said everything was under control, nevertheless, people in Nice were seen at bars, restaurants, and the beach. These concentrations were the result of the indifference of authorities and because people didn’t understand the importance of avoiding large crowds in times of a pandemic. Now there are 9,058 cases in France.

In the case of Spain, there are 17,395 cases.

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A dangerous curve

The so-called exponential curve worries experts. According to mathematics, in order to stop the COVID-19 outbreak, people need to stop moving through cities and stop interacting with others so that the virus doesn’t spread.

Dr. Mike Ryan, the Executive Director at WHO Health Emergencies Program, says that although it is expensive to track the COVID-19 cases, it is much more expensive to paralyze entire cities. He said, “This is not the flu, it’s a new virus and we have to take lessons from other countries who are being successful and have a comprehensive strategy.” Meanwhile, Dr. Ravalli says that “It’s essential to identify and track positive cases but the only (country) that has done so effectively in South Korea.”

South Korea set an example while handling the coronavirus outbreak. The country diagnosed patients at an early stage by randomly testing 200,000 people. It created 633 detection points distributed across the country and applied around 15,000 tests every day. The strategy paid off because although South Korean authorities have detected over 8,000 cases, the early detection is reflected in the death rate: 0.9%; only 81 deaths.

Furthermore, Taiwan, Singapore, and Hong Kong showed the world they did indeed learned their lesson after the SARS outbreak years ago. These countries quickly identified those affected and quarantined people, and even implemented fines. In the case of Japan, it showed that despite having a large population of elders, it’s health system is efficient.

Now, the COVID-19 is starting to spread in the Americas and Africa. It was believed that high temperatures could stop the virus from spreading, nevertheless, it keeps on spreading.

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Immunity and permanence of the virus

The COVID-19 has shed light on several investigations that deal with viruses, weather, seasonal variation, and the immune system. It has been argued, although it has yet to be proven, that the immune system can change with stations, increasing its resistance according to the amount of light experienced by the organism.

On the other hand, some scientists argue that humidity has a lot to do with the weakening of certain viruses, especially coronaviruses, nevertheless, the COVID-19 has shown it can also spread in humid climates; for example, Singapore has over 175 cases.

However, the factors might have to do with the type of humidity. In an article recently published by Science magazine, written by Jeffrey Shaman, a geophysicist at Columbia University, the scientist argues that what matters the most is absolute humidity, the total amount of steam in the air. The study is supported by epidemiologist Marc Lipsitch from Harvard University, who thinks total humidity could have something to do with flue epidemics during winter when the cold air has less steam.

It’s still not clear why a lower absolute humidity could benefit some viruses. The factors that could affect the viability of the viral envelope might include changes in osmotic pressure, evaporation rates, and pH. The genetic material of coronavirus is surrounded by a membrane that is usually made of lipids, which interacts with the cells during the infection process and helps to avoid the attacks launched by the immune system. The viruses that have these “envelopes” might be more fragile and vulnerable to other conditions, such as the heath and dryness of summer. Nevertheless, scientists don’t think summer will end with COVID-19 because although there might a seasonal decrease in the virus during hotter and sunnier months but if there are enough people vulnerable to the virus, the pandemic could continue.

Additionally, there are new factors about the COVID-19 and that explains its high contagion rates. The World Health Organization has warned that those infected with COVID-19 can infect people even when they have recovered from the illness. Therefore, the recommendation is to self-quarantine for at least two weeks after the first symptoms appear.

According to Dr. Ravalli, the only way to decrease contagion and halt the impact of the virus is to learn from the mistakes of the European: “The only measure is for all of us to stay home and be responsible, sometimes despite the calm and irresponsibility of our politicians, there’s no time to lose.”

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