Multi-awarded Filipino actor Christopher de Leon admitted last March 17, on Instagram, that he was tested positive for the dreaded coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

“Today, our doctor confirmed that I have COVID-19,” he wrote.  “I’ve had no recent travel history outside of the Philippines and no known contact with anyone who is positive to have the virus.  However, due to the nature of my work in the entertainment business, I have interacted with many people.”

The actor, who is currently appearing in the television series, Love Thy Woman, urged those who has come in contact with him “to observe stringent self-quarantine, observe for symptoms and follow the triage procedures published by DOH (Department of Health), whether asymptomatic or not.”

De Leon is the first Filipino actor to have come out of being infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus the causes COVID-19.  In Hollywood, two-time Oscar winning actor Tom Hanks and his actress wife, Rita Wilson, also confirmed that they had been infected with the virus while in Australia while shooting an untitled movie about the life of Elvis Presley.

In a video shared to this Twitter, Idris Elba also announced that he was tested positive for COVID-19 after coming in contact with someone who had it. “This is serious. Now’s the time to really think about social distancing, washing your hands,” he said.  “Beyond that, there are people out there who aren’t showing symptoms, and that can easily spread it.”

If these famous people have been infected with the pathogen that causes COVID-19, how much more for the ordinary people?  This must be the reason why President Rodrigo R. Duterte last March 16 placed the country under the state of calamity for six months “unless earlier lifted or extended as circumstances may warrant.”

Comparable to that of Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster which happened at Ukraine in 1986.  That was how Prof. Dali Yang, a political scientist at the University of Chicago, compared the viral disease that is sweeping the world today, including the Philippines.

“It will be a crisis of Chernobyl proportions, especially because we will have to contend with the virus for the years to come,” he was quoted as saying by the South China Morning Post.

The World Health Organization (WHO) is doing its best to control the spread of the virus which has already killed almost 8,000 people around the globe.  “WHO has clear advice for government, businesses and individuals: first, prepare and be ready,” said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in a press conference in Geneva.

“Every person must know the signs and symptoms and how to protect themselves and others,” Dr. Tedros said.  “Every health worker should be able to recognize this disease, provide care and know what to do with their patients.”

According to the WHO, the incubation period – the time from exposure to onset of symptoms – is about two weeks.  The common signs of infection include respiratory symptoms, fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties.  In more severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death.  

Detect, protect and treat – that’s the second advice from WHO.  “You can’t fight a virus if you don’t know where it is,” Dr. Tedros said.  “Find, isolate, test and treat every case to break the chains of transmission.  Every case we find and treat limits the expansion of the disease.”

In another press briefing, Dr. Tedros recommended: “If they test positive, isolate them and find out who they have been in close contact with up to 2 days before they developed symptoms and test those people too.” (The WHO recommends testing contacts of confirmed cases only if they show symptoms of COVID-19.)

The third advice: reduce transmission.  “Do not just let this fire burn; isolate the sick and quarantine their contacts,” Dr. Tedros explained. “In addition, measures that increase social distancing… may help reduce transmission.  Even if you cannot stop transmission, you can slow it down and save lives.”

Social distancing is based on a principle that you don’t know who’s infected and you’re separating, putting social distance between everyone.  “Social distancing is a tried and tested method in slowing down the pace of epidemic spread,” the WHO says.

The fourth advice: innovate and learn.  “This is a new virus and a new situation,” Dr. Tedros admitted.  “We’re all learning and we must all find new ways to prevent infections, saves lives and minimize impacts.  All countries have lessons to share.  There are simple, effective things we can all to do reduce the risk of infection for ourselves and those around us; clean our hands regularly with an alcohol-based rub or soap and water.

“Cover your mouth and nose with your elbow if you cough or sneeze,” Dr. Tedros continued.  “Stay home, if you’re sick, avoid necessary travel and large social gatherings; comply with the advice of your local or national health authority; find and share reliable information; and finally, you can give.”

If COVID-19 pandemic is not contained, it could affect 80% of the world’s total population.  “With a 1% mortality rate, this would mean that 70 million people would die of the disease,” contends Dr. John Scales Avery, who was part of a group that shared the 1995 Nobel Peace Prize.  “With a 2% mortality rate, the total number of deaths would be twice that number.”

Dr. Avery, who is an associate professor emeritus at University of Copenhagen in Denmark, adds: “Comparable numbers of people have died in the tragic wars and pandemics of the past.  There is a serious danger that it might happen again.” – ###