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Episode #12 - Safe celebrations during the Pandemic

13 November 2020 | Science conversation

Summary

How can we celebrate the Holidays safely? Who are the high risk members in our families and communities and how can we keep them safe? What about travel during the holidays? WHO’s Chief Scientist explains in Science in 5.

Podcast

Transcript

Vismita Gupta-Smith:

As 2020 comes to an end, people are getting ready for holidays. In many countries, this is also the wedding season. So, people are getting ready to get together with their families, their friends, and to travel to be with their loved ones. How can we ensure that we stay safe during these holidays? Here to explain the science behind the tools that you have at your disposal to keep yourself safe is Dr Soumya Swaminathan.

Dr Soumya Swaminathan:

Welcome, Soumya. Hello, Vismita. Pleasure to be with you.

Vismita Gupta-Smith:

Soumya, explain to us the tools that each family – each one of us – has at our disposal to keep ourselves safe and the science behind these tools.

Dr Soumya Swaminathan:

Now that we understand how this virus spreads from person to person, we can also make sense of what we need to do and why we need to do those things. So, how does a virus spread? If someone is infected and they're coughing or speaking or breathing heavily, there are always small droplets that come out of our mouth of different sizes. And in those droplets, you can have virus particles, if you're infected. So knowing that, the science behind it, then we can say ‘OK, what do we need to do?’ We need to keep a physical distance from people, at least one meter wherever possible; if possible, more. We need to wear a mask so that, when these droplets are coming out when we speak, they are blocked by the mask; they're not escaping out into the air. And then, we need to wash our hands frequently with soap and water or we can use alcohol-based hand disinfectants. We need to avoid closed, unventilated places. If you're indoors with a lot of people, doors and windows need to be kept open. And, if possible, do things outdoors wherever possible. So, if we follow these measures, then we can try to reduce or limit the amount of transmission of this virus. So, during the holiday season, particularly, when we tend to do these things, we tend to gather in larger groups, we tend to spend time together with friends and extended family. So, that increases the risks of this virus spreading and we need to make sure that we remember these measures that we have to take.

Vismita Gupta-Smith:

Soumya, we also have people in our families who are at risk. Who are these people and how can we keep them safe?

Dr Soumya Swaminathan:

So, we know that the people at risk of developing complications and becoming really ill from this COVID-19 are those whose immune system is weak. So, this is the elderly — as you get older, your immune system becomes less able to fight infections. It's people who have underlying diseases like high blood pressure or diabetes or heart disease or chronic lung disease. It's people who are on treatment for diseases like cancer, which weakens the immune system. Also, obesity has been found to be a risk factor, of course. So, that affects younger people as well. So, when we think about our families, I think as we want to come together and celebrate the festivals, we need to think about who in our family is most at risk. Whom do we need to protect? And while we want to celebrate with them, we need to reduce their risk. So, it's the older people in the family, but it's also people with these underlying diseases. So, one way of doing that is to have celebrations, but keep it within the members of a household that are regularly living together and that are meeting anyway. And try to minimize gatherings where you have many different households and families coming together, because that always increases the risk of infection. In parts of the world where the weather is fine to have outdoor gatherings, that's safer than having indoor gatherings. But we also need to remember the physical distancing, the mask wearing, the hand washing. And, if anyone is unwell – has a cough or fever – they should really not be going into these family gatherings.

Vismita Gupta-Smith:

Is it safe to travel? And if one must travel, how can we make that journey safe?

Dr Soumya Swaminathan:

So, the first question is to ask yourself: do I definitely need to travel? Is it a must? And if it is, then one has to minimize the risk. We know that no travel is going to be risk-free but we can do many things to minimize that risk. And that is, again, the same things. Try to keep a distance when you're in the plane or the train or a bus. If you're in a bus or a car, where you can open your windows, or even in a train, keep the windows open so you're getting a lot of ventilation. Keep your mask on all the time. Make sure that you carry a disinfectant with you to clean your hands or wash your hands frequently with soap and water. If you're unwell, if you're suffering from fever or cough, don't travel. Postpone it. And then finally, if you are arriving at a destination where you have to meet people who are at higher risk of getting the infection, to be really safe, better to quarantine yourself for 14 days before you actually start mixing with the larger family, particularly if there are vulnerable people in that group.

Vismita Gupta-Smith: 

Thank you, Soumya. There you have it, WHO’s chief scientist, Dr Soumya Swaminathan, explaining how you can have safe holidays this season. So, from the entire WHO family, we wish you happy holidays. Until next time then. Stay safe, stay healthy and stick with science.

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