COVID-19 has had irrefutable and despicable consequences on people’s lives and the economy. It seems to have changed our lives forever. Hopelessness is evident with sickness, death and unemployment rates soaring almost everywhere around the world. Social media has been flooding with have “Can we uninstall 2020, this version has a virus in it” memes since April. Community spreading could not be contained even after months of lockdown and life becoming a standstill in India. The Coronavirus has made communities stay away from each other for survival. While the COVID-19 pandemic is still unfolding, a number of changes, both in terms of collateral damage and co-benefits of the fight against the virus, have already started digging their heels in.
For every low, there’s a high. and even in this current scenario we are looking for a silver lining. Covid-19 has brought the vulnerability of human existence back into focus. Behavioural changes were no more a personal choice. It was designed collectively and imposed as a constraint by governments on the general public. Although the national policies meant restriction of some individual and collective freedom, the ethical principle of protecting human life was given priority. Some surprising health benefits were observed during the lockdown as people invest more time and energy looking after themselves. Here are some reasons to be hopeful about the future.
Although it’s still a long way to full recovery, the heightened public awareness about communicable disease generated by the pandemic have clearly made the average person realize that personal hygiene and sanitation can play vital roles in preventing disease transmission. Those who have tested positive for COVID-19 are a lot more likely to be washing their hands and sanitizing their workplaces and living environments than they were in the past — we are reaching close to 1.5 million positive COVID-19 cases in India now — and those who were fortunate enough to avoid exposure now feel the pressure to follow suit. While people are wearing masks out of compulsion due to government directives, they would soon realise that masks not only protect from Coronavirus, but also from air pollution, pollen grains (which acts as allergens for many), and other contagious diseases like influenza, common colds, viral and bacterial gastrointestinal disease agents.
Moreover, when good hygiene practice is institutionalized, they become part of the culture. These beneficial behaviours are expected to be passed along to the children and pay dividends in better health and longer life for generations to come. These practices, if sustained, will also help to control the next round of emerging pathogens.
According to World Health Organization, tobacco kills more than 8 million people globally every year. More than 7 million of these deaths are from direct tobacco use and around 1.2 million are due to non-smokers being exposed to passive smoking. Since COVID primarily affects the lungs, researchers found that smokers with a positive Covid-19 test were more than twice as likely as non-smokers with coronavirus to be hospitalised. This finding encouraged 300,000 people to quit smoking and pushed another 550,000 to try and give up the habit, according to research from YouGov and campaign group Action on Smoking and Health. The lungs start repairing themselves almost immediately after quitting smoking, with function increasing up to 10 % within nine months, according to the NHS. After a year, the risk of heart disease halves; after a decade the chance of getting lung cancer is half of that of a smoker.
A research by charity Alcohol Change UK found that with parties, pub trips and long lunches cancelled, many people’s drinking habits have been hugely disturbed. Only one in five is drinking more often instead, while one in three has completely stopped drinking, or reduced how often they drink since lockdown began, according to their research. Although reduced socialising can have different impacts on lives, a break from drinking can lead to reduced blood pressure, fewer headaches, weight loss and improved liver function, according to the Priory Group.
Work from home has become the new normal for many people. During lockdown, when people did not have to commute long distances to get to work or have to get the kids ready for school on time, we can get a little more sleep. Even an extra hour of sleep could mean seven hours instead of six, which makes a big difference to our health. In the evening too, as people don’t have to get home late, it is possible to get to bed a little earlier and get more rest. A lot of companies are offering work from home even now, as they believe productivity can increase with improved resting hours.
The extra time on our hands and the worry of gaining weight has prompted many people to start working out at home. From yoga and meditation to energetic Zumba sessions, people all over the world are getting creative with their home workouts. This is also a fun activity because the whole family can join in and stay healthy together. Others are opting to travel on foot or bike to avoid the infection risk of going on public transport. All of this is adding up to a boom in cycling. According to an estimate by traffic and transport directorate, 15 lakh people have been out on Kolkata’s roads on bicycles since June 1. There is anecdotal evidence from doctors that people are getting more active which when made a habit would benefit in both physical and mental wellbeing.
Many people have become cautious about eating outside food because they don’t want to catch COVID-19. As a result, people are eating home-cooked food. Home cooking usually uses less oil, fresh ingredients, and little to no processed foods, making it a healthier option than eating out. Moreover, cutting out junk from diet improves metabolism, immunity, decreases obesity and obesity related health risks.
Fear, worry, and stress are normal responses to perceived or real threats, and at times when ‘normal’ people being exposed to ‘extraordinary situations’ emotional difficulties like anxiety, depression, biological effects like sleep, appetite disturbances as well as severe mental illness and substance misuse are well anticipated. This has led to awareness about the importance of mental health. People generally tend to look after their physical health, but with the rise of government and NGO’s opening up helplines for attending mental health issues, people are likely to accept psychological needs of their own self and those around them. Even after the crisis is over, people are likely to acknowledge metal illness equally as they do for physical ailments.
Enhanced public health
Health systems around the world are being challenged by increasing demand for care of people with COVID-19 while trying to maintain the delivery of routine health services. As part of the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the state health departments had to get their health infrastructure, human resources and medical supplies in place to handle the expected surge in cases. The Central, state and district administration engaged in the government and non-government machinery, engaged in partnerships and collaborations, swiftly provided necessary approvals and embraced information and communications technology (ICT) and frugal innovation to accelerate their public health response. Even if a part of the technology and workforce deployed to combat this crisis stays after COVID is over, it would drastically improve the overall public health infrastructure which has been proved to be inadequate before COVID outbreak. Spreading awareness would also become much easier post COVID.
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