By Pat Lok
Social distancing, a phrase that people have come to loath, is a public health strategy that helps to limit the spread of infection and protect the vulnerable. But as we’ve seen over the past couple of weeks, it’s been difficult for some members of the public at large to incorporate such a draconian measure into their lives. Crowds have been seen gathering in local parks, especially over the past few weeks as a result of the mild weather, leading to Royal Parks recent decision to close some of its parks in parts of London. Additionally, the Prime Minister has recently announced that all non-essential business must close for the duration of the lockdown, and that police have been given new powers in an attempt to clamp down on large gatherings and unnecessary trips.
Health & Wellbeing
Among those who have observed the rules, some creative individuals have come up with innovative ways of embracing the social distancing strategy while still living their lives and carrying on with most of their normal day-to-day routines.
For example, physical fitness can be difficult to maintain when the parks and gyms are closed. But fear not, for some people have reportedly managed to run an entire marathon from within the confines of their inner-city apartments. Others have taken to virtual fitness sessions allowing those in isolation to tune-in from the comfort of their own homes.
As for individuals like you and me however, there are still lots of free resources online that’ll help us keep active and maintain a healthy body whilst still self-isolating. YouTube can be a good platform for finding online tutorials for exercises that we can do from the comfort of our own homes. For example, should you want to lift some weights, but you lack the dumbbells, you could use a couple of 10kg packets of pasta as a suitable substitute. The point is to be creative.
Shopping & Logistics
Photos of empty supermarket shelves have been trending on social media for the past few weeks, creating a somewhat tense atmosphere which led to a degree of scaremongering both online and in the press. This formed a positive feedback loop that encouraged others to do the same.
As a result, you might have seen that the stockpiling of products such as toilet paper and hand sanitizer has been rife. Pleas from their customers led most supermarkets to impose a series of countermeasures in an effort to protect the vulnerable and priorities those most in-need (and those most deserving). Some of these measures include:
- Limiting the number of repeat purchases per-customer, meaning that customers can only purchase two or three of the same items to curb stockpiling and stock shortages.
- Special opening times for both NHS workers, care staff, and the elderly – though there are concerns regarding whether or not NHS staff and the elderly should be shopping together in a confined space, and at the same time.
- Indicators have been placed on shop floors to help shoppers maintain a safe distance from each other while shopping. And some supermarkets have imposed a one-in-one-out queueing system which controls the number of shoppers shopping at once at a given time.
Later on, the government introduced a shielding strategy where vulnerable individuals were instructed to stay at home for at least twelve weeks at a time, due to their increased likelihood of serious complications should they contract the virus. As a result, many good-willed neighbours, friends, and individuals have volunteered to assist these shielded people by doing their weekly shopping for them.
Additionally, medical students across the country have formed the National Health Supporters group, a student-led initiative that offers babysitting and grocery shopping services to frontline NHS staff when they have to work long hours or an emergency shift. There’s an app that volunteers can sign-up to and see who is the closest NHS staff member to you that needs help. If you are DBS-cleared, you can go on their website to sign-up to your local group and volunteer your time.
Sanitation & Hygiene
Regular, thorough handwashing has been an integral part of the message to help fight this virus. It is recommended that people wash their hands for at least twenty seconds. Though an IT-savvy teenager has created a website where you can combine the first twenty seconds of a song with the official WHO handwashing poster, to create a personalized poster showing users what handwashing technique they should be practising in-time with the song they’ve selected. I’ve attached my poster below; I do not feel guilty about my choice of song, though.
Education & Entertainment
Many online educational platforms have made some of their online resources available for free, incentivizing people to stay at home and use their free time constructively. I’ve picked out some of my favourite resources, which include:
- Free access to Ivy League online courses through FreeCodeCamp.
- Three weeks of Osmosis Prime – an invaluable resource for healthcare students – if you sign the pledge to ‘Raise the Line and Flatten The Curve’.
- Free access to Audible’s collection of audiobooks for school children.
As for entertainment, we have the ever-present Netflix and YouTube – though the recently-released browser extension called Netflix Party makes watching the former with friends that much more intimate. Though if all you’re in need of is a quick laugh, I’d encourage you to seek out some of the freshest memes on Twitter or Reddit that have certainly put a smile on my face in recent times.
The Global Response
With the number of COVID-19 cases increasing worldwide, some countries have encountered shortages of vital equipment such as ventilators and masks. In response, a group of Italian product designers have used their skills in design and 3D printing to make templates that enable people to manufacture their own 3D-printed marks.
South Korea, which was an early epicentre of the COVID-19 pandemic, embraced the concept of drive-through tests, providing convenient access to testing stations which would text the results of their test a few hours later.
Healthcare professionals are adapting to the increasing demand of patients. Some GP practices are even changing how they operate; dividing doctors into ‘hot’ and ‘cold’ teams, downstairs and upstairs respectively. The ‘hot team’ would treat suspected COVID-19 cases, whereas the ‘cold team’ would treat other illnesses. And should a hot team member fall ill themselves, a cold team member would replace them.
There have been many innovative countermeasures that have been put in place as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic worldwide. As a medical student, I look forward to seeing what other innovations will come of this latest health crisis – however unfortunate the impact has been. We are still in the early days of social distancing, as the government have recently announced that there will be at least twelve more weeks of the measure (as of the 19th of March) before life starts to return to normal. In the meantime, however, we should fulfil our civic duty and stay at home.
Stay Home. Save Lives.