Symptoms, sanitising, swabs, shopping ...?
By: Jacqui Bealing
Last updated: Monday, 20 April 2020
Sussex experts share their wisdom and advice during the Covid-19 pandemic.
While we’re all doing our best to follow government’s guidelines to “stay in, protect the NHS, save lives”, the Covid-19 pandemic has created a huge demand for specialist knowledge and expertise that might help us through this crisis.
Sussex academics are among those contributing to this vital information. They are giving advice on how to stay safe and sane, and looking ahead to how food supplies and distribution can be safeguarded.
In the absence of wider testing in the community, many are concerned about how to identify whether or not they have the illness.
Although a fever and a dry cough are identified as the key signs, Dr Edward Wright, virologist and Senior Lecturer in Microbiology, points out that for every one case with the typical symptoms, five to ten cases may go undetected because their symptoms may be atypical, or they could have none at all.
“We don’t have a clear picture why some people may have mild disease, and others severe,” he says. “It could be to do with genetics but it could be to do with the virus replicating more rapidly, killing more cells.”
Dr Joshua Moon, a Research Fellow in Sustainability Research Methods in the Science Policy Research Unit (SPRU), has commented on the importance of using the right technique to accurately collect nasal swabs.
“By being able to know who is and isn't infected, we can isolate cases and contacts while still allowing others to freely move about the country and work,” he says. “This is why testing is absolutely key to reducing the lockdown we currently have, otherwise undetected cases will go on to infect others and the cycle will continue."
We know that the virus is easily spread, and that it’s essential not just to maintain social distancing but to keep sanitising your hands and anything else you may touch while outside your home.
As Dr Jenna Macciochi, Lecturer in Immunology, says, customers should not feel embarrassed about cleaning touchscreens in supermarkets and public places. “Take something to wipe down the till before using and wash your hands at the first possible opportunity,” she advises.
To boost your immune system, she advocates keeping your gut healthy by eating fermented foods such as yoghurt and kefir, among other things, and drinking two litres of water every day.
One of the biggest challenges has been changing our shopping habits. Even though the panic-buying and stockpiling appears to have abated, Sussex experts are predicting more trouble in stores.
Dr Sam Roscoe, Lecturer in Operations Management, points out the likelihood of labour shortages as companies struggle to keep up the online demand, particularly when illness and childcare issues affect workers.
He has also cautioned that supplies of paracetamol, manufactured in India, could run out in the UK by the summer with the India in lockdown.
He says: “The supply chains that are best suited for these kind of challenges are actually covert supply chains (like human trafficking, drugs, smuggling) as they are very agile, but long-distance supply chains typically try to optimise efficiency.”
With lockdowns and infections likely to cause issues with food production and distribution, conditions are ripe for an emerging black market and high levels of bribery, according to Robert Barrington, Professor of Anti-Corruption Practice at Sussex’s Centre for the Study of Corruption.
“We may not be far away from people paying a supermarket manager for privileged out-of-hours access or paying inflated prices to get special access to the wholesale warehouses whose stock is stranded by the shutdown of schools and pubs.”
He says the government should act now to assess the risks and put in place sensible mitigation plans. “Like the pandemic, the message on managing the corruption risks is the same. Get ahead of the curve: start planning now.”
Life in lockdown
Meanwhile, what about our mental health?
"It's not just the fact that they're going to be cooped up together. Emotions are also going to be super-stressed because - on top of what young people are feeling - parents are worried about jobs, food supplies, paying the next bill."
Sam, who is involved in a new research project to look at how lockdown affects family life, advises parents of pre-teenage children to regard the situation as an adventure and to find creative ways to entertain the children. Staying in touch with their social groups via video-conferencing can help to avoid feelings of isolation.
For teenagers, she encourages parents to listen and sympathise. "Whatever emotions the situation is throwing up, tell them you understand how awful it must be at the moment and what a shame it is.
"But let them know you can't solve this for them. If they are really catastrophising about it - worrying that they won't go to university and won't get a job - correct that, because it's not the case."
Finally, if you’re looking for an absorbing distraction from the news while confined to quarters, Dr Nicos Georgiou, Senior Lecturer in Mathematics, has come up with a series of lockdown puzzles for BBC Radio 4’s Puzzle for Today. Here’s one about planting rhubarb.