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It started with a case of pneumonia of unknown origin in Wuhan, China, in late December 2019. By March 2020, the COVID-19 infection had spread to 177 regions and countries across the world and affected millions of lives. Most countries facing the threat of this new coronavirus infection have imposed partial or complete lockdowns to contain the spread of this highly contagious viral infection.

With healthcare professionals and scientists working hard to care for existing patients and to find a cure or vaccine for the disease as quickly as possible, the World Health Organization (WHO) - along with FIFA - started a global campaign to prevent this pandemic from spreading further. The campaign involves raising awareness about and popularising five key steps, practising which can help people keep the COVID-19 infection at bay. 

These five steps include simple things you can do including practices like proper handwashing, respiratory hygiene, social distancing and taking your health seriously. These hygiene practices are usually taught in schools to very young children, but most of us tend to forget or neglect them as we grow up. We need to re-learn these if COVID-19 is to be contained and defeated globally.

The WHO’s recommendations for the prevention of COVID-19 can be remembered through simple, one-word indicators. The success of these preventive measures, however, depends on regular practice of all five together, like they were second nature - following one or two alone will not do. Here is everything you need to know about the five steps to keep COVID-19 at bay, as suggested by the WHO.

  1. Hands
  2. Elbow
  3. Face
  4. Distance
  5. Feel

The first step emphasises proper handwashing. Washing your hands regularly with soap and water can get rid of viruses, bacteria and fungi. This method of sterilising hands regularly was first introduced by Dr Ignaz Semmelweis in the late 1840s, but was actually adopted in the 1980s as a common practice across the world. 

Regular hand-washing does not mean that you simply rinse your hands with soap and water, but actually take 20 seconds or more to thoroughly scrub every part of your hands, including the palms, between the fingers and the nails, etc. If you do not have easy access to soap and water then use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer to clean your hands regularly. (If you are using a hand sanitizer, pick one with 60-95% alcohol.)

Read more: How to make hand sanitizer at home

The second step prevents you from spreading any germs or microbes you might have inside your body. Viruses can be transferred from person to person through droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Even if people are not directly exposed to them, these droplets can remain on surfaces, from where the viruses can be picked up by the next person who comes in contact with the surface.  

This transfer can be easily avoided if you use your elbow to cover your nose and mouth while coughing or sneezing, instead of doing it in the open air or around people. If you have a tissue, you can use that to cover your nose and mouth instead of your elbow, but remember to throw out the tissue after using it once. If you’re using a handkerchief, then don’t leave it lying around and wash it regularly to keep viruses away.

The three ways through which viruses enter our body are the mouth, nose and eyes. While most health-conscious people keep a check on what they put into their bodies through their mouths (by following a healthy diet), people tend to forget that the easiest and the most common way for viruses to enter the body is through face-touching. The third step focuses on stopping you from doing just that.

According to a study published in the American Journal of Infection Control in 2015, the average human touches his or her face at least 23 times per hour. This habitual face-touching behaviour transfers germs from your fingertips to the eyes, nose and mouth. Being aware of this habit and avoiding it is very important to stop the spread of any virus, and not just COVID-19.

The fourth step asks you to take a step back from physical forms of social interaction, and practice social distancing instead. This does not mean that you isolate yourself. Instead, it refers to the idea of maintaining at least one metre’s distance from everybody else, and avoiding crowds. Why is that?

The coronavirus that causes COVID-19 - SARS-CoV-2 - spreads through close contact with a patient. Social distancing, in this case, is the best way to avoid transmission of viral droplets from one person to another. If you maintain a distance of at least one metre, you will not be in the range of any droplets from anybody else’s sneeze or cough. At the same time, it’s important to remember that practising social distancing is useless if you don’t practice hand and respiratory hygiene alongside.

The fifth and final step asks you to focus on the most important type of wealth in your life: your health. Working on your immune system and fitness levels is always important, but during the spread of a pandemic like COVID-19, it’s even more important to monitor your own health as well as that of your loved ones.

The WHO makes two requests in this regard. If you or anyone close to you feels unwell or is showing symptoms of COVID-19, a) stay at home, and b) call your doctor or emergency health services and ask them what to do. Hiding your illness or ignoring it is reckless, and not only can it make your condition worse but also endanger the lives of those around you.

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References

  1. World Health Organization [Internet]. Geneva (SUI): World Health Organization; Pass the message: Five steps to kicking out coronavirus
  2. Kwok, Yen Lee Angela. et al. Face Touching: A Frequent Habit That Has Implications for Hand Hygiene. Am J Infect Control , 43 (2), 112-4. PMID: 25637115
  3. World Health Organization [Internet]. Geneva (SUI): World Health Organization; Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) Pandemic
  4. WHO Guidelines on Hand Hygiene in Health Care: First Global Patient Safety Challenge Clean Care Is Safer Care. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2009. 4, Historical perspective on hand hygiene in health care.
  5. Maharaj, Savi and Kleczkowski, Adam. Controlling epidemic spread by social distancing: Do it well or not at all. BMC Public Health. 2012; 12: 679. PMID: 22905965
  6. Glass, Robert J. et al. Targeted Social Distancing Designs for Pandemic Influenza. Emerg Infect Dis. 2006 Nov; 12(11): 1671–1681. PMID: 17283616
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