After the World Health Organization (WTO) declared the COVID-19 virus outbreak a pandemic, quarantine took effect in Lithuania. Most of us understand that this means a high risk of getting ill with coronavirus. Among those who are infected, most will recover. However, the high number of deaths among vulnerable groups is likely to occur.
In the current situation, people must listen to the instructions of medical staff and of those responsible for managing the situation. Also, the recommendations from psychologists and educators on how to spend quarantine and self-isolation safely. Sociologists add: be sure to foster social contact remotely; have trust in the authorities’ ability to manage the situation, believe the information which is coming from credible sources.
Remote social interaction is essential
There are many suggestions out there for coping with the quarantine. In addition, the sociologists suggest: boost your indirect social relationships to enhance your emotional well-being and that of your loved ones. You can strengthen these relationships by maintaining communication remotely, using all available technological inventions.
During your days at home, it is important to think about everybody in your social network. This includes not only your virtual network but also in fellowship, kinship and neighbourhood circle during the days at home.
Those who have access to the news and information on the internet, press TV or other media may already have all the relevant information on what measures to take while in isolation. During this crisis, in Lithuania, the communication is well organised. However, not everyone has access to the information. Sometimes people do not understand the information or do not take it seriously.
Think about the elderly neighbours who live alone, relatives in rural areas, sceptical friends who do not read the news and about others.
Call, write, put up an advertisement in the stairwell of your house or make an indirect contact in other ways. Explain why self-isolation and avoiding contact is important, where to seek help. Make sure that these people are not ill. This way, you can help the most vulnerable populations to better prepare and withstand pandemic reaction.
The Italian example shows that when people do not take the situation seriously, it is impossible to prevent the transmission of infection. It is important to understand yourself and to explain to others why it is worth following recommendations and trusting what the authorities are saying.
People ignore the threat
People tend to distance themselves from the high-risk of COVID-19, they believe that something bad can happen to “others” or “elsewhere”. It is a self-defence mechanism that helps to control emerging inner anxiety.
There are several ways of neglecting the danger: thinking it will happen elsewhere just not at home (geographic distancing), that the likelihood of contracting the infection is exaggerated (decreasing the likelihood), that it will happen to others (social deferral) or not now (distancing in time). Misinterpretation of a situation and ignorance are the biggest threats.
To overcome this psychological distraction, let’s look at a specific example. COVID-19 has infected a student in Lithuania and he carried the infection around showing no outward symptoms. It could have been your friend or somebody who has just touched the handrail you are now holding. The virus can be transmitted to people of all ages, social backgrounds and areas.
The threat is relevant not only to “others” and “different” but also to you. People in South Korea were rigid about the recommendations and reminded each other to self-isolate. Therefore, the spread of the virus was properly controlled in South Korea. The virus does not walk on specially marked roads. The virus does not choose only “other”, “different”, “elsewhere”. The virus doesn’t care whether you are a sceptic or a cautious one. The only thing that matters is whether you are protecting yourself and others.
Lithuanian government implemented protective measures early. Hopefully, this saved us from the early spread of the virus throughout the country. The greatest threat to us now comes from the voluntary disregard of government’s, medical staff’s and researchers’ recommendations and the lack of solidarity.
Trust only credible sources
Another advice from the sociologists: trust only credible sources. Any messages circulated by friends, e.g. “People tell… No official sources will report this” only raise panic and mistrust. Credible knowledge reduces panic and enables crisis management.
Lithuania is an advanced country with a strong economy. It is not important, whether you like the current ruling majority or not, you need to trust them in times of crisis. We are a mature enough democratic country. All the important information is definitely shared with us and the recommendations are valid.
However, you need to know how to read the information provided by researchers and medical staff. Due to the lack of understanding, this information is simplified or doesn’t reach us at all. Let’s look at the indicators which are the most relevant to us and how to interpret them.
A good source that this article refers to, and which is perfect for further exploration is a perfect discussion about COVID-19 research and data by Max Roser, Hannah Ritchie, and Esteban Ortiz-Ospina (OurWorldInData.org).
Tracking the pandemic: what data should we choose?
There are several key indicators of the COVID-19 outbreak. The most commonly reported are confirmed cases. At the moment, there are 36 confirmed cases in Lithuania (March 19, 2020, 14.30). Although the society would like to know about all the cases of the virus, this is not possible. We can only know about the confirmed ones. The World Health Organization defines it as a case where a person has a confirmation of COVID-19 infection by a laboratory. This means that only a part of those infected with COVID-19 is reflected in the number.
On March 19, there were 207,855 confirmed cases and 8,648 deaths in 166 countries worldwide. Most cases are detected in China (81,174), Italy (35,713) and Iran (17,361). You may check up-to-date information on confirmed cases here: https://coronavirus-resources.esri.com/
To understand the pandemic, it is important to understand the speed in which the COVID-19 infection spreading. Even if the numbers in Lithuania are not high (compared to other countries), the situation changes in the blink of an eye because of the rapid spread of the virus.
The researchers have found that the spread of coronavirus COVID-19 is exponential. Exponential growth shows a constant growth rate – the number of cases double over the same time (OurWorldInData.org).
People tend to perceive changes as linear, so it is difficult to understand the consequences of exponential growth. If the number of cases doubles in just a few days, the spread becomes much faster. This usually occurs at the beginning of a pandemic.
According to OurWorldInData.org, exponential growth means that 500 cases will grow to over 1 million cases in just 11 doubles. And after 10 more doubles, it will grow to 1 billion cases.
For example, if the number of cases doubles in 4 days (spread rate), in this example 1 million cases should be reached in 44 days. The spread is not occurring uncontrollably because states have taken measures. So the calculations are just examples – we won’t necessarily have exactly that number of cases. But the example gives you an idea of how many people can become infected with COVID-19 in a reasonably short time.
To understand the COVID-19 situation in different countries, it is necessary to consider not only the total number of confirmed cases but also the infection’s spreading rate. For example, in Italy or France, the numbers have doubled in a short time and they already have confirmed a high number of cases. Countries where the numbers have doubled in a short time but they have so far a low number of confirmed cases, such as Hungary or Croatia, are in the early stages of a pandemic. The greatest potential for successful interventions will be here.
The number of confirmed cases in Lithuania is still low but has doubled in just 2 days. March 15 there were 12 confirmed cases, and on March 19 we already have 36. This is a high growth rate. We are at the beginning of exponential growth.
Testing is crucial in order to understand the prevalence of the disease.
The number of confirmed cases also depends on the total number of infections and the number of tests performed. By March 17, 742 samples were tested in Lithuania. More extensive testing was then not possible because of the testing rules, lack of reagents and laboratory capacities, and other factors.
We can compare our data with other countries to evaluate if we have enough testing in Lithuania.
By March 15, there were 21,105 people tested in the US. By March 12, 86,011 tests were conducted in Italy and 24,8647 tests by March 13 in South Korea. However, these countries have larger populations. Therefore, it is more appropriate to look at the number of tests performed per million people.
Available data show that South Korea has tested more people than any other country, and it has been praised for its effective response to the coronavirus pandemic. WTO is constantly repeating that testing is essential to reduce the incidence of infection. The risk is high when people do not know if they are infected and do not self-isolate.
Trust each other, our country and our expert knowledge. If we all unite, if we can protect the most vulnerable populations, if we show confidence and awareness, we will overcome the crisis.
Audronė Telešienė is a professor at the KTU Faculty of Social Sciences, Arts and Humanities, a researcher at Civil Society and Sustainable Development research group, Head of KTU Centre of Data Analysis and Archiving.
Up-to-date information on COVID-19 in Lithuania:
Reliable World Data: