KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 2 — Countries do not need to lock down completely if people follow public health practices like wearing face masks, physical distancing, and washing hands frequently, said US top infectious disease expert Dr Anthony Fauci.
Dr Fauci, the lead public health official on the White House coronavirus taskforce, added that everyone should also avoid gatherings, especially indoors where they should wear masks, and to do things outdoors rather than indoors, like dining outside at restaurants.
“We found that in the United States that states that did that versus states that didn’t, the trajectory of cases was, without a doubt, much much much worse in the states that said they didn’t want to be involved,” Dr Fauci told a media roundtable last night ahead of the International AIDS Society’s (IAS) Covid-19 Conference: Prevention.
“So you don’t have to lock down completely because we all know what a terrible impact that has on the economy. You can do something that’s a golden mean – where you do good public health measures without having to shut everything down,” he added, when CodeBlue asked how countries can manage Covid-19 epidemics without lurching from lockdown to lockdown.
The US has recorded 25.9 million Covid-19 cases, the highest in the world, while Malaysia reported a cumulative 219,173 coronavirus infections as of yesterday. Some countries had largely succeeded in controlling virus transmission without resorting to lockdowns, such as South Korea, Taiwan, and Japan. Others like China, Australia, and New Zealand employed strict city-wide movement restrictions to stamp out coronavirus outbreaks.
Malaysia has implemented a lockdown from January 13 that is scheduled to end on February 4, covering all states except Sarawak, the second Movement Control Order (MCO) enforced after the first seven-week MCO in March last year.
The MCO failed to reduce Covid-19 cases, as daily confirmed infections have been increasing from 2,985 cases on January 13 to more than 3,000 a day since, even reaching highs of more than 5,000 daily for three consecutive days.
Senior Defence Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob reportedly said yesterday that the government would not implement a total lockdown due to its severe impact on small businesses. He said authorities would focus on Covid-19 outbreaks at factories and construction sites instead, where large clusters have been reported.
IAS past president Dr Linda-Gail Bekker — an infectious disease specialist from the University of Cape Town, South Africa — said wearing cloth masks cuts the risk of contracting Covid-19 as it reduces the viral load when one comes into contact with someone who is breathing out SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19.
“My understanding of that is when we breathe out, we breathe out a plume of air. And we now know that SARS-CoV-2 is transmitted as small particles in the air. It’s airborne. That plume moves in front of us,” Dr Bekker said at the media roundtable that was moderated by IAS president Dr Adeeba Kamarulzaman from Malaysia’s University of Malaya.
“The mask interrupts that plume. It doesn’t mean you don’t breathe, but it breaks the plume, and to a certain extent, protects you from breathing directly somebody else’s plume into your lungs.”
Dr Fauci stressed that public health measures must be separated from political ideology.
“You can’t have arguments where wearing a mask or not wearing a mask becomes a political statement. It is a public health issue, period. There’s no doubt about that. It doesn’t matter whether you’re in the United States, South Africa, or the European Union, or Asia; it doesn’t make any difference,” he said.
“Public health doesn’t know political ideology.”Dr Anthony Fauci, member of the White House coronavirus taskforce
Unlike the US, where many Americans resist wearing masks, most Malaysians generally wear face coverings outside. Malaysian authorities report only a few hundred criminal breaches of standard operating procedures (SOPs) nationwide daily, a fraction of the 32-million population.
“When you’re in a public health crisis, you’ve got to pull together, everybody rowing in the same direction. Otherwise, you’re not going to stop what is now as we all know, this historically destructive pandemic that we’re dealing with.”