DMU virus expert gives advice on staying safe under Government's new guidelines

From today (Wednesday) the Government makes the first steps towards easing the lockdown restrictions.  We asked DMU virologist Dr Maitreyi Shivkumar for her advice on what you can do to stay safe.

Dr Maitreyi Shivkumar 2

What is the new guidance?
From today some industries, such as manufacturing and construction, have been encouraged to return to work if safety measures are in place.  
People can take unlimited amounts of outdoor exercise, visit parks without having to exercise and play sport with one person they do not live with.
The Government has also advised people to wear home-made face masks in some enclosed spaces, such as shops. Guidance has been published on how to safely use public transport and how sectors can begin to return to work.

Will going outside more than once a day to exercise mean that we increase our risk?

“Being outside in itself is not going to change the way that the virus spreads,” explains Dr Shivkumar. “What it may do is increase the likelihood of coming into close contact with other people which increases the risk of transmission. It is important to continue to maintain physical distance from people not in your household.”

We can now go to the park. What should we be mindful of?
“Parks in urban areas are bound to get crowded unless people follow the guidelines strictly, and I worry having seen pictures of the way people were gathering over the bank holiday that this may not be the case. If people are sensible and keep their distance, then the risk will be minimal.

“People still need to be careful. Although the number of cases have plateaued, the number of new cases is still at around 4,000 per day. I worry that people being less cautious will contribute to a second spike.”  

What are the risks of using public transport and how can we mitigate them?

Dr Shivkumar says: “Walking, cycling, or driving to work is the best option to minimise risk of transmission of the virus, but this may be impractical for a lot of people. The risk with public transport is that it is a confined space which may become crowded as more people go back to work. Physical distancing is key, people should stay at least two metres apart and be aware of the space around them.

“We know the virus survives for a few hours to days on hard surfaces, and multiple people touching the same things like poles or buttons for stops or doors can increase the risk of contact transmission.

“If the numbers of people using public transport remains low, then these risks will be reduced.”

The Government has advised people to wear face coverings in some enclosed spaces. How does that help?

“The use of these face coverings is actually less about protecting the wearer than the people they come into contact with,” explains Dr Shivkumar. “We now know that almost half the transmission are from people who are pre-symptomatic – that is, they have been infected but do not know it and are not showing any symptoms. 

“We are not talking about surgical face masks, as these should be saved for healthcare workers. The public can use cloth masks that can be bought or made at home.  It is important to remember that they should be used correctly and washed regularly, alongside other social distancing measures. ”

What surfaces should you be aware of in an office environment?

“Any surfaces that lots of people regularly touch are a risk. For example, doorknobs, keyboards, computer mice, touch screens – all these need to be disinfected regularly. Also remember to wash your hands regularly, and avoid touching your face after coming into contact with potentially contaminated surfaces.”

I’ve seen people wearing latex gloves in the supermarket. Should I be doing that too?

There is no harm in wearing gloves but it is still important to be aware of what you touch,” says Dr Shivkumar. “Wearing gloves will only help if accompanied by good practise.

“The risk is that people touch multiple surfaces, then may touch their face or hair, and this could potentially spread the virus.   

“It is far more beneficial to wash your hands regularly.  If employers provide hand sanitisers at work that might be more helpful. It’s not like gloves will make you invincible.”

Posted on Wednesday 13th May 2020

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