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A pandemic is nearly upon us

Hartl, Judith
Judith Hartl
February 24, 2020

Many virologists say we might soon have a coronavirus pandemic on our hands. What can we do now? Avoid crowds and major events like football matches, and thoroughly rinse our hands, says Judith Hartl.

A masked Carnival reveller in Venice
Image: Reuters/M. Silvestri

It is Carnival season in many regions of Europe. And, like every year, now is the time when revelers peck each other on the cheeks, snog and hug total strangers, and spend hours in overcrowded bars. These interactions at close quarters, of course, make it easy for viruses and bacteria to spread — as does the wintry climate.

How, you might be wondering, is any of this connected to the coronavirus outbreak? As the virus continues to infect ever more people, scientists are starting to expect a global outbreak, or pandemic. This should not send us into a state of panic, however, as a global outbreak says nothing about how dangerous the virus itself is. A pandemic merely means the virus is prevalent across the globe – and that it's time for is to rethink our approach towards COVID-19. 

Read more: Life around Italy's quarantined 'red zone'

Quarantine no longer works

So far, after all, we have been imposing quarantines or putting infected people on lockdown to prevent them from further spreading the virus. But with a pandemic looming, these measures may now have become pointless. We are facing a new phase of the coronavirus spread.

Going forward, everything will depend on trying to mitigate the effects of a pandemic. This will mean each and everyone one of us doing our utmost to prevent infections.

DW's Judith Hartl
Judith Hartl of DW's Science deskImage: DW

And this brings us right back to Carnival season. Italian authorities were right to call off Venice Carnival, as this drastically reduces the risk of individuals infected with the coronavirus spreading it. These and other major events, like football matches, conferences and festivals, catalyze the spread of viruses — so canceling them as a precautionary measure is sensible. It is far wiser to be a extra careful than to downplay the risk. Iran, for example, has made the right choice in closing schools, universities and other public events and institutions in order to conduct decontamination operations. 

Read more: How Coronavirus stacks up versus other health risks

Rather safe than sorry

So, what else can we do to avoid contracting or spreading the virus? One of the simplest and most effective steps we can take is to regularly wash our hands! We should also refrain from touching other people's faces, we should use disinfectant, stop shaking hands with others and keep physical contact to a minimum. So next time you meet someone, try giving them an elbow bump, a wave, a nod or a bow. 

Try to avoid major events and don't get peeved when your favorite football team postpones its match, or when a hotly anticipated music festival is called off.

It is understandable that Germany's Carnival festivities are going ahead as planned — but it may also serve as a bizarre, unchecked real-life study into the spread of the coronavirus. Many visitors from abroad, including the US, Europe and also Asia, come to Germany to experience the Carnival. And that significantly increased the danger that COVID-19 will be passed from one reveler to the next. Let's hope souvenirs and happy memories are all the take home with them.