Home Opinion Covid-19: Science-based steps to stay safe

Covid-19: Science-based steps to stay safe

I fear we may be in for some trouble. And I’m putting it mildly.

The crowds rushing to ‘balik kampung’ or to popular tourist destinations, after being imprisoned by almost continuous travel restrictions aimed at reducing the spread of Covid-19 for about two years, strikes fear in me.

It has already struck fear in the hearts of residents in some states which are seeing a free flow of visitors. Some residents of Penang, for instance, have taken to social media to lament their situation and even tell those from other states to stay away.

Most people, from the looks of it, feel that the danger is over. No. the danger is far from over.

Travel and other restrictions have been lifted not because the danger has passed but largely because people have to earn a living. The government’s decision to allow work and social life to return to almost normal is mostly driven by economic and mental well-being factors.

Many feel emboldened by dropping fatality and infection numbers. But numbers can be deceiving. If you test 100 people in a day and find 10 infected, the total number infected that day would be reported as 10. But if you were to test 10,000 people in a day, you will certainly find the number higher.

It depends very much on how many people are tested, not just on how many turn up at clinics and hospitals with symptoms. I don’t know how many are tested each day and whether contact tracing is even being done these days.

It’s probably a coincidence but the infection figures seemed to go higher when there was a push for a sitting of Parliament and the government was in danger of collapse but now that a change of government has happened and the opposition has signed a temporary truce with the government, the figures are coming down.

Health authorities feel cases are dropping because more than 90% of adults have been vaccinated. And that is why interstate travel has been allowed for those who have been fully vaccinated.

My fear is that with Covid-19 infection and death cases dropping, with the government talking about entering the endemic phase and with the lifting of restrictions, most if not all of us are letting our guard down.

Apart from the usual advice about physical distancing and wearing masks, there are some other actions we can take – based on science – to keep ourselves and others safe.

Eat more plant-based food

Numerous studies prove that a plant-based diet enhances health. Now, two studies show that a plant-based diet helps in the fight against Covid-19 infection.

One study involving 2,884 frontline doctors and nurses found that participants who reported following “plant-based diets” had 73% lower odds of moderate-to-severe Covid-19 severity compared with participants who did not follow such a diet.

Another study, reported in September, involved 592,571 people. The study led by researchers at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital found that those whose diets were based on healthy plant-based foods had lower risks of Covid-19 infection and a lower severity if infected.

“Although we cannot emphasise enough the importance of getting vaccinated and wearing a mask in crowded indoor settings, our study suggests that individuals can also potentially reduce their risk of getting Covid-19 or having poor outcomes by paying attention to their diet,” says co-senior author Andrew Chan, a gastroenterologist and chief of the clinical and translational epidemiology unit at the hospital.

Get some sunlight everyday

Research from Trinity College Dublin and the University of Edinburgh found that those who were exposed to sunlight weeks before Covid-19 infection were strongly protected against severe disease and death.

Researchers from the two institutions found that ambient ultraviolet B (UVB) radiation (which is key for Vitamin D production in the skin) at an individual’s place of residence preceding Covid-19 infection was strongly and inversely associated with hospitalisation and death.

This, they said, suggested that Vitamin D might protect against severe Covid-19 disease and death.

Professor Evropi Theodoratou, professor of cancer epidemiology and global health, University of Edinburgh and senior researcher on the study said: “Given the lack of highly effective therapies against Covid-19, we think it is important to remain open-minded to emerging results from rigorously conducted studies of Vitamin D.”

So, get out daily even if it is in your garden or balcony to get some sunlight. Morning sunlight, I believe, is best.

There’s no need to take Vitamin D supplements as we are blessed with plenty of sunshine in Malaysia. Note too that excessive intake of Vitamin D supplements will lead to problems such as hypercalcemia, where calcium builds up in the blood stream causing weakness, nausea, vomiting and frequent urination. It could, over time, lead to the formation of kidney stones.

Spend more time with nature

University of Surrey researchers wanted to find out if and how the well-being of people who engaged with nature via social media – that is, by watching videos related to nature and greens – during the pandemic lockdown would be affected.

They found that engaging with nature virtually had helped many “cope with and process stress and mental fatigue” which they were experiencing as a result of the pandemic. It also helped give them a sense of meaning, as well as an increased sense of connectedness to nature and other people.

Another study, this time involving children, also shows the beneficent effect of nature on one’s mental well-being.

Researchers from the University of Cambridge and the University of Sussex found that children who had increased their connection to nature during the Covid-19 lockdown in the United Kingdom were likely to have lower levels of behavioural and emotional problems, compared with those whose connection to nature stayed the same or decreased.

They also found that children who were out in nature less frequently displayed sadness or anxiety.

So, get your children to step out into your garden more often, if you have one, or take them to the nearest open space or let them run around trees after cautioning them about playing safely.They’ll also get some sunlight, and that’s doubly good.

Schools should allot a few minutes for children to be out on the field or do a spot of gardening, if the school has a garden.

“Extending the amount of time that children can access nature, or extending the distance that children could be allowed to travel to access nature, could have a beneficial impact on their mental health,” said Dr Elian Fink, a lecturer in psychology at the University of Sussex who was involved in the study.

Serve ginger tea at gatherings

I had earlier written about how researchers at the University of Central Florida found that ginger consumption could reduce the transmission potential of airborne pathogens such as the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 or SARS-CoV-2 responsible for Covid-19.

Ginger, they found, not only reduced the amount of saliva expelled from a sneeze by more than 80%, but was as effective as a mask in reducing the distance droplets and aerosols travelled after a sneeze.

So, when you have visitors or gatherings at home, why not serve ginger tea instead of other beverages? Why not offer each person a thin slice of ginger to be kept in the mouth, especially at a large gathering like a wedding?

Take up yoga

A survey of 23,290 people in India found that yoga practice reduced stress and anxiety and possibly enhanced immunity during the pandemic. They found an increased susceptibility to Covid-19 among those who did not practice yoga compared with those who did.

The study, published in Frontiers in Psychiatry, found that “good physical strength and endurance coupled with the absence of chronic disease were also proportionately higher in the yoga group, suggesting better health outcomes corresponding to Covid-19”.

Yogic breathing techniques, they said, were an effective tool in fighting Covid-19 as they improved respiratory and cardiac function.

Numerous earlier studies have shown the effectiveness of yoga in maintaining general health and in helping overcome certain specific illnesses.

Meanwhile, researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard University, University of California-San Diego and the Chopra Library for Integrative Studies concluded that “certain meditation, yoga asana (postures), and pranayama (breathing) practices may possibly be effective adjunctive means of treating and/or preventing SARS-CoV-2 infection”.

They said: “Yoga has been shown to increase several parameters of the immune function, as well as reduce several Covid-19 associated risk factors, including hypertension, obesity, cardiovascular risk factors and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.”

So, why not take up yoga? It could help save your life or at least improve your health.

Beware, as danger lurks

The above are some measure we can take to enhance our immune system and health, and also help prevent the spread of the disease. I hope the health authorities will encourage people to take up what has been suggested, and perhaps introduce such ideas to schoolchildren.

With people rushing to release their tensions or visit family members they haven’t seen in months, there is increased need for precautions. Remember, danger still lurks, so pause, reflect and take precautions even as you go about your daily work or enjoy an outing or two. Stay safe.



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