Fundasaun Mahein is aware that there are many questions about coronavirus, or COVID-19, especially for what it means for Timor-Leste. The most important thing now is to stay calm. To help keep our communities secure, FM has provided answers to some pressing questions.
If I get coronavirus, will I die?
This is very unlikely. Although coronavirus is a very serious disease, it only kills about 3% of those who fall ill with it (but you can still get very sick, even if you do not die). However, it is most dangerous for the most vulnerable in our communities: the elderly, those with tuberculosis, those with malnutrition, and veterans and others whose health suffered under the Indonesian occupation. Healthy young people are very unlikely to die from coronavirus, and so far, healthy children rarely seem to fall ill. However, anyone can transmit the coronavirus, so we must all work hard to protect the most vulnerable in our communities.
What type of illness is coronavirus? How does it travel?
The virus is a respiratory illness, meaning that it affects the lungs. It causes a dry cough and a high fever, but many people who have coronavirus do not have symptoms, or only have mild ones. However, even those who do not have symptoms can bring the virus to vulnerable people, which is why all of us must be careful.
Coronavirus is spread by droplets, or small particles of moisture that are spread when people cough, spit, blow their nose, and the like. These droplets can only travel about 1.5 meters (about the height of the average adult)—so if someone coughs on you, you can get the virus, but not if someone coughs on the other side of the street. Right now, doctors are not sure how long these droplets can live outside of a person’s body, but it may be up to 24 hours. This means that you can also get or spread coronaviruses from touching surfaces with these droplets already on them. Therefore, the best thing that you can do to keep you and your family safe from coronavirus is to keep yourself and your area very clean.
What can I do to protect my family and community from coronavirus?
There are two major things that you can do to help: allow the government to open quarantine and treatment facilities, and keep things clean. FM will discuss quarantine below, so first let’s discuss prevention for yourself and in your home.
The most important thing is to wash your hands with soap. If you have running water, wash your hands with soap for at least 20 seconds, and wash them as often as possible. If you do not, try and create one by poking a hole in a water bottle that can be closed with a pencil. When you wash your hands, take out the pencil and wash your hands in the stream of water, then put the pencil back in to stop it. If you come up with another creative solution, please e-mail FM or write us on our Facebook page.
Alternatively, you can use hand sanitizer. The World Health Organization has a recipe for you to make your own hand sanitizer; please take it to your Xefe suku so that your community can all contribute to making and distributing large batches.
For one batch, put isopropyl alcohol 99.8% (7515 milliliters), hydrogen peroxide 3% (417 milliliters), and glycerol 98% (145 milliliters) into a large bottle with a screw cap. Shake it together to mix it, and then leave the bottle for three days so that any germs already inside the bottle are killed. Remember that you cannot eat or drink this: only use it to clean your hands.
Here is the recipe from the WHO (in English): https://www.who.int/gpsc/5may/Guide_to_Local_Production.pdf
Also, keep your home and your workplace as clean as possible. You can use Rinso mixed with water to clean all surfaces of your home and kill any virus. However, don’t use Rinso to wash your body! For bathing, just use soap. If you keep yourself and the area around you clean, the coronavirus will not have anywhere to live, and you can help to prevent it from spreading.
You can also stay home when you are sick and feed your family extremely nutritious food. The healthier you and your family are, the less likely you are to become ill from coronavirus. In particular, eat as many vegetables (especially dark green plants) and fruit as possible, along with eggs and meat.
What exactly is quarantine?
“Quarantine” refers to a secure place used to isolate a possibly sick person away from the community in order to prevent others from being infected.
Actually, doctors usually use two separate words: “quarantine” and “isolation.” “Isolation” is when a sick person is isolated from others to prevent the spread of a disease; “quarantine” refers to isolating someone who may have been exposed to a disease to see if they become sick.
In either case, however, the goal is to prevent people who are (or may be) sick separated from the general population; quarantine and isolation centers are thus meant to be secure facilities separate from the surrounding community.
Should I support or oppose government initiatives to open quarantine or coronavirus treatment centers in my community?
If there is a quarantine facility in your area, this does not mean that people with coronavirus will be allowed to interact freely with the community. Instead, it means that they are securely contained inside of a building; their only interaction will be with medical personnel wearing protective gear. Quarantine is meant to prevent the spread of a disease, and so the surrounding community is actually very safe.
FM understands completely that you want to protect your family, yourself, and your community. We also know how frightening this disease is, and that you may feel that allowing sick people into your neighborhood puts your community at great risk.
However, the most dangerous thing that you can do to your family and community right now is to prevent or delay the creation of quarantine and coronavirus health centers. Why? As soon as there is a suspected case of coronavirus, both that person and everyone that he or she has come into contact with must be isolated until doctors can confirm whether or not the patient has coronavirus. If there is any delay in isolating suspected coronavirus patients, or in treating people confirmed to have coronavirus, that means that the disease has time to spread—and ultimately to kill our most vulnerable. Once in quarantine, however, the virus is prevented from spreading. So the safest thing that you can do for your family is not to protest the creation of coronavirus centers in your area, but simply to clean your home and wash your hands.
FM understands how frightening this seems, and we cry with you. However, by allowing for a coronavirus treatment or quarantine center to come to your neighborhood, you are doing an immeasurable favor to your nation and your fellow citizens. Moreover, quarantine is actually very safe, and the best thing that you can do for your community is to facilitate the installation of quarantine centers and for patients to be transferred to them as quickly as possible. Every hour that quarantine and treatment are delayed helps the virus to spread and puts your community more at risk.
FM therefore respectfully requests that you do not protest a quarantine or coronavirus treatment facility in your community, but instead do all that you can to facilitate the creation of quarantine facilities as quickly as possible. Quarantine is key to keeping you, your family, and your community safe. Quarantine is life.
How does quarantine actually work?
According to the Ministry of Health protocols, once someone is identified as needing isolation or quarantine in Timor-Leste, they are immediately isolated by trained medical workers in protective equipment. Then, an ambulance comes to take the possibly infected person to the quarantine facility, where they are greeted by a doctor and a nurse who are also wearing protective equipment, and they immediately enter the quarantine building.
Patients thus go from health center to ambulance to quarantine. At no point are they ever allowed outside of a sterile, isolated environment or into the community. Having a quarantine facility in your community is thus not only safe, it is infinitely safer than delaying suspected coronavirus patients from entering quarantine.
Why can’t people be quarantined at Jaco Island instead?
FM understands that you may wish for people with coronavirus to be kept as isolated as possible. However, Jaco Island is not logistically feasible. First of all, it is very difficult to get to, along terrible roads. What if the ambulance taking patients were to get a flat tire or break down? This delay would risk spreading the infection. Jaco is also very far from any effective health care facilities, putting patients at risk. What if your mother or father were quarantined at Jaco and fell severely ill, and died because they were too far from medical care?
Medical personnel and equipment, such as ambulances, are already in very short supply in Timor. Losing at least two days of round-trip travel between Dili and Jaco per patient means that these life-saving people and equipment are unavailable to respond to emergencies and new cases—which will cause the disease to spread further and many more people to die. Therefore, at least in the beginning, quarantine centers must be close to Dili, the hospital, and the airport.
A Note from Fundasaun Mahein
Timor-Leste had the gift of time. The first case of coronavirus was confirmed in Timor-Leste on Saturday, March 21st, nearly two months after it become widely known and discussed worldwide. This has given us ample opportunity to see how other nations have reacted, as well as to prepare for the virus and install preventative measures.
Since this first case was announced, Timor-Leste has taken significant steps. The government declared a State of Emergency, and shortly after acted on FM’s suggestion of creating an Integrated Crisis Management Center. Until the April 13th sealing of the borders for citizens and non-citizens alike, all travelers arriving internationally, were immediately taken into government-mandated quarantine. Although there have been some reports of issues with these facilities, the results of this decision have arguably been life-saving: as of April 15th, all known COVID-19 cases in Timor-Leste—except for the first, whose contacts were aggressively traced and quarantined—have arisen in quarantine facilities, rather than in the communities.
Nonetheless, there remains a devastating dearth of knowledge about the virus in Timor-Leste. Shamefully, in the weeks allowed to us before the arrival of the virus on our shores, our leaders chose to give more attention to their political infighting than to preparing Timor-Leste for coronavirus or prioritizing an early, widespread public health education campaign. This failure to devote the nation’s full attention and resources to public health education around coronavirus has resulted, among other things, in the protests against quarantine facilities in both Tibar and Metiaut—incidents that have been met more consistently with tear gas than with enhanced community education. The enforcement of the State of Emergency has been a better lesson on police brutality than in effective community understanding of social distancing. All of this means that our country, for all the valuble measures that have been taken, remains woefully underprepared for COVID-19, with many citizens unaware of the disease’s symptoms, unsure of how to respond, and reluctant to seek medical attention. Ultimately, the price for this will be paid in the blood of our most vulnerable.
The most important thing that you can do right now is to wash your hands and your home. Just as importantly, we must think about our communities, not about ourselves. If you feel sick, please stay home and isolate yourself. Have empathy towards those who are ill. Support each other. Love each other. Remain calm. No matter what, do not resort to violence. Do not make any decisions out of fear. If you are a healthcare worker, please continue with your lifesaving, invaluable work. If you are a government worker and your work is necessary to running the country, please plan with your colleagues what you will do if the virus begins to spread in Dili or in your community. With every action that you take, think about whether your actions will either endanger our beloved grandparents or keep them safe and healthy.
We have fought for our country and our people before. We have sacrificed for our people before. We cannot be afraid to do so again.
Remember: quarantine is life.
FM welcomes your questions. Please ask us any question at our Facebook page or by e-mailing Director João Almeida at email@example.com.