Covid-19: What to do when a pandemic is declared

  • Malaysia
  • Thursday, 26 Mar 2020

While stocking up a two-week supply of groceries and other necessities is a sensible precaution during a pandemic, anything more is not advised in order to avoid panic-buying. — ZAINUDIN AHAD/The Star

Is the Covid-19 outbreak a pandemic situation yet?

On March 11 (2020), the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared Covid-19 a worldwide pandemic.

Should I panic?

Of course, you should not panic.

There is nothing to be gained by panicking, and you would only lose out to people who do not panic.

People who panic have usually seen too many Hollywood movies where everyone turns sick or into a zombie, and the whole world goes apocalyptic.

But all that doesn’t really happen in real life.

When does WHO declare a pandemic?

A pandemic is an epidemic that has spread over several countries and continents, and affects a large group of people.

That is why Covid-19 had been declared a worldwide pandemic.

There are guidelines for WHO to declare a worldwide pandemic, but these are not always clear cut.

There isn’t a threshold number, for example, of how many countries affected, how many people infected or how many deaths occurred, to declare a pandemic.

The SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) outbreak in 2003 was never declared a worldwide pandemic, by the way, even when it affected 26 countries.

WHO usually takes into account whether declaring a global pandemic will trigger widespread panic, instead of raising good practice awareness as it is intended to.

For example, in 2009, they declared the A(H1N1) influenza a global pandemic.

This led to a lot of global panic and caused governments worldwide to overspend billions of dollars on antiviral drugs.

What happens when WHO declares a global pandemic?

Hospitals need to be prepared for a large number of patients.

Governments need to stockpile antiviral drugs.

Pharmaceutical companies, both branded and generic, need to churn out medications to meet this massive demand.

Governments need to advise the general public to stay at home if they are sick and to practise social distancing from other people, e.g. avoiding large gatherings like going to church, parties and movie theatres.

Schools everywhere may be cancelled. Factories may be closed. Ports may be shut down. Offices and restaurants may be shut down.

People everywhere will be stocking up on essential groceries and items just in case they are not allowed to leave their homes, and also, just in case supply runs out in supermarkets.

Basically, what you see happening in China today to contain Covid-19 may be conducted on a global scale – or much worse.

What should I do then as a citizen?

Our Health Ministry will give precise guidelines as to what can or cannot be done.

These guidelines will be specific to each country and their situation, and we should follow the national guidelines of the country we are in at the specific time.

Basically, most countries will recommend that you do the following:

  • Plan what to do if you or someone in your family falls sick from Covid-19. It is likely that your government or office will require you to self-quarantine along with your loved one.

    Your office may also ask you to work from home as you cannot come to work. What will happen to your kids and pets? How will you minimise their contact with the sick person? Who will look after you, if you are the patient?

  • Stock up on two weeks of canned/preserved food or food that can last in the freezer, and drinking water if necessary. It is recommended to stock up 3.7 litres of clean drinking water per person per day for cleaning, cooking and drinking, if necessary. Essential services like electricity and water are usually still available even during a total lockdown.

    You should also buy foods like rice, noodles, meat, fruits and vegetables to ensure you have a balanced diet if you cannot go out.

  • Don’t forget to buy enough baby formula and pet food, if needed.
  • Don’t succumb to panic buying!
  • Make sure you and your family members have the necessary medical records, if possible in a hard copy, and personal health needs.

    This is just in case one of you needs to be admitted quickly to the hospital.

  • If you are on prescription drugs, make sure you have enough supplies to last you through the quarantine period.
  • Make sure that you have a first aid kit.

    Also stock up on over-the-counter medicines and supplements you may possibly need, like paracetamol and vitamin C.

    Think of the types of medicines your children might need as well.

  • Stock up on cleaning supplies, sanitisers, toilet paper and tissues. But please don’t go into panic mode and overbuy the whole supermarket!
  • Most of all, practise social distancing. Stand about one metre or an arm’s length away from everyone else. Avoid crowded places. If your office has a work from home policy, use it.

Dr YLM graduated as a medical doctor, and has been writing for many years on various subjects such as medicine, health, computers and entertainment. For further information, email The information contained in this column is for general educational purposes only. Neither The Star nor the author gives any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to such information. The Star and the author disclaim all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.

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