Virologist Chris Barbara’s warning on COVID-19 relaxation: ‘Now’s the time for more discipline, not less’

Virologist Chris Barbara has declared that re-opening restaurants and hairdressers will provide more opportunities for the COVID-19 virus to spread

Virologist Chris Barbara has declared that re-opening restaurants and hairdressers will provide more opportunities for the COVID-19 virus to spread. But he has acknowledged the need to strike a balance between economy and health, calling on the general public not to let down their guard at this sensitive moment.

“This is a time for greater, not less discipline… the easing of restrictions on economic activities like restaurants and hairdressers has to be accompanied by even greater vigilance and adherence to social distancing rules,” Barbara, one of the experts leading Malta’s successful COVID-19 fightback, said.

He insisted that the public can still keep the virus in check and even avoid a second wave if it sticks to social distancing rules.

But Barbara said he was particularly taken aback by the irresponsibility of those already congregating in groups. “This is surely not the time to organise street parties or to celebrate in this way, as we will be creating more opportunities for the virus to spread. Now is the time to be even more careful than ever by keeping physical distance, avoiding groups, using sanitizer to wash hands and wearing facemasks.”

He also warned that the risk of the second wave was still there and whether this happens or not depends on whether people stick to social distancing rules.

“This virus is an opportunist. It will seize every opportunity we create for it to spread. The moment we lower our guard, it will spread with deadly consequences for those most at risk – including the elderly who have made most sacrifices by locking themselves in their homes for the past weeks.”

Asked for his opinion on the easing of restrictions on restaurants and hairdressers Barbara insisted that from “a strictly a medical point of view”, his advice as a virologist would have been not to reopen these activities.

“These activities can create opportunities for the virus to spread… the least opportunities we give the virus to spread the better.”

However, he conceded that “we cannot afford to leave the country economically paralyzed… we do not live in a bubble.”

He warned that if the country’s economy collapses, even the health system will collapse with it and other problems, including mental health will increase. “A balance has to be reached,” he said.

However, for a balance to be reached any reopening of economic activity has to be matched by even greater vigilance on the part of the population.

Asked whether he would advise people to go to restaurants or hairdressers, he made it clear that the best way to stop the virus from spreading remains that “of closing the doors and stay as much as possible at home”.

“That remains my advice and nothing has changed for me to say otherwise… the more we open up, the greater the risks we face and therefore the greater the need to be disciplined,” he said.

“The risks of re-opening of restaurants can be somewhat mitigated by following basic common sense rules like avoiding sitting opposite someone else to avoid the virus spreading through saliva.”

He also dismissed any misplaced optimism. “The risk is still there and the virus will spread more the moment we lower our guard.”

And while understanding the lockdown fatigue people were feeling as well as their economic realities, Barbara was concerned that some sectors of the population – especially younger people – had started to lower their guard.

He called on people to refrain from congregating in groups describing such behaviour as irresponsible. “It could endanger the life of elderly people and other vulnerable categories.”

Barbara expressed his gratitude for the elderly, who have been locked down in their homes for weeks and appealed to the public to show their solidarity by adhering to social distancing rules.

“By nature I am an optimist, but the only way to keep the virus at bay until a vaccine is made available for the population, is by sticking to the rules and avoiding any physical contact with each other.”

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