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March 11, 2020

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Healthy habits vital to containing the epidemic

As the weather is turning warmer, will the COVID-19 disappear of its own accord? And when can we work or walk outside without wearing a mask?

These were two questions raised by journalists in recent interviews with medical experts, which reflect popular concerns about how quickly life can return to normal after the epidemic that first broke out in Wuhan, in central China’s Hubei Province, in December.

These are probably the wrong questions to ask, though, even if they reflect some people’s yearning for the retreat of the virus as soon as possible.

Will the virus vanish under warmer weather conditions?

“It’s hard to say,” said Zhang Wenhong, director of the infectious disease department at Huashan Hospital, during a recent interview.

“A clearly important thing, actually, is to ensure good ventilation. Open the windows and have a circulation of air.”

Zhang has been known for speaking his mind and offering practical advice to help people prevent the spread of the coronavirus. For example, he formerly advised residents to stay at home to “stifle” the virus. “Even if you stay at home, you are a warrior fighting the virus,” he said. These words have been well heeded.

But as summer approaches, will we listen to his call again? Will office workers open windows, wherever possible, to let in fresh air on a hot summer afternoon?

After all, for many of us, a childhood without air-conditioning was just fine.

Zhang’s call to open the windows can’t be more opportune. In the coming months, summer will be on our doorstep. We cannot count on warmer weather as a sure-fire therapy against the virus, but we can do our best to do the right thing. Zhang’s advice has opened a window into a lifestyle that can naturally help us stay healthier. It could be difficult for many to adapt to this new work and lifestyle, but where there’s a will, there’s a way.

Zhang Boli, president of the Tianjin University of Traditional Chinese Medicine, said recently that people should not pay too much attention to when we can do without masks. “It’s most important to cultivate good life habits,” he said.

Sleep and emotions matter

He estimated that people in places outside of Hubei Province should return to normal life by the end of April, but he cautioned against taking off masks too hastily. He suggested that people maintain good habits of washing hands, wearing masks and avoiding crowds for a certain period of time.

Habits define our lives and prevention is key to staying healthy. There is a consensus among medical experts that prevention is better than cure.

Indeed, a key to the convalescence of many mildly infected patients in Shanghai and elsewhere was preventing their symptoms from getting worse. Medical experts even listed well-managed sleep and emotions as useful methods to help patients recover. After all, lack of sound sleep and loss of temper can cause a decline in human immune power.

So, beyond opening windows, washing hands, wearing a mask, good sleep and staying calm, what other good habits should we cultivate to come safely through the current epidemic?

Knowing that the coronavirus spreads typically via airborne contact, we’d better refrain from shouting or spitting in public spaces.

When we cough, we’d better turn our face away from others and cover our mouth with our elbow. And don’t stir dishes of food with your own chopsticks when you dine with others.

All these habits can help reduce the risk of viral contagion.


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