Representational image
Representational image

As panic and fear spread across the country, following Monday's news that three people in India tested positive for coronavirus, there seems to be a new problem gripping individuals.

After reading WhatsApp forwards and hearing news put out by mainstream media, people have been thronging in large numbers outside medical stores to buy hand sanitisers and surgical masks. According to a report in Mumbai Mirror, masks usually priced at Re 1 are now being sold for Rs 25 at some outlets.

A New York Times report published two days ago said that several leading pharmacies had run out of hand sanitisers due to the outbreak in the United States.

But are face masks and hand sanitisers actually necessary?

The World Health Organization has issued a set of directives on when and how to wear a face mask during the coronavirus outbreak. "If you are healthy," they say, "you need to wear a face mask if you're taking care of a patient suspected of or having the coronavirus infection."

The WHO adds that you should wear a mask if you're coughing or sneezing. "Masks are effective only when used in combination with frequent hand-cleaning with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water."

As demand increases however, there may not be enough masks left for those who really need it. The US Surgeon General, who heads the country's Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, recently took to Twitter to suggest that people stop buying masks.

"They are NOT effective in preventing general public from catching #Coronavirus, but if healthcare providers can’t get them to care for sick patients, it puts them and our communities at risk!" he warned.

Which brings us to the question of hand sanitisers.

According to a report in The Guardian, UK's hygiene experts, the National Health Scheme (NHS) and Public Health England, say that to kill most viruses, a hand sanitiser requires at least 60 per cent alcohol i.e. 60 per cent to 95 per cent. However, not everyone has a skin type that reacts well to sanitisers with such a high alcohol content. As a result, most sanitisers available in the market have anti-bacterial properties, but the coronavirus is a virus and such sanitisers - despite their pleasant smell - will have no effect. WHO, however, recommends washing your hands regularly with a good antimicrobial soap.

Dr Sanjay Gupta, the chief medical correspondent at CNN has also shared a thread on whether coronavirus is dangerous. In the thread, he mentions, "Overall, more than 80% of cases had mild disease. Around 14% had severe disease. Nearly 5% had critical disease and were at increased risk of dying."

WHO's data says that 104 people outside China have died. However, it is also important to note that 7,169 cases were reported across the world, barring China. This is a case fatality rate of 1.5 per cent. In comparison, dengue has 1 per cent case fatality rate.

So, while we have to take necessary precautions to prevent the virus from affecting us, we also need to realise that spreading fear won't solve any problem.

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Free Press Journal