Q&A: How to #BeActive during COVID-19 Lockdown

Maher Nasser, Director of Outreach Division at the United Nations Department of Global Communications, says that its important for people to remain active during the coronavirus lockdown, not only physically, but mentally also. Courtesy: Maher Nasser

By Samira Sadeque
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 13 2020 – Growing up in Ramallah in Palestine, Maher Nasser, Director of Outreach Division at the United Nations Department of Global Communications, never really liked running. “I only ran when I needed to: to catch a bus or to run from soldiers,” he tells IPS. But now with three marathons under his belt — which raised thousands for scholarships for Palestinian women’s education — Nasser is still running, albeit on his balcony.

He hasn’t left the house in over two weeks since the coronavirus lockdown. “That’s why I ran on the balcony and went around maybe a thousand times,” he says, explaining that he’s run about 5km. And he’s seen colleagues skipping rope and jumping to keep fit.

Growing up under curfews in Palestine, Nasser knows the toll that staying home can take on ones body and mind.

Apr. 6 marked the United Nations International Day of Sport for Development and Peace. But this year, it was observed under a significantly different reality as most people are locked in their own homes, either self-isolating or under quarantine, because of the coronavirus pandemic. 

The World Health Organization, U.N. and FIFA came together for the #BeActive campaign urging people to share stories about how they’re staying active within the confines of their home. 

WHO recommends for an adult to be engaging in 30-minute physical activities daily, and has suggested a variety of activities people can build into their schedule. 

This year, the day was scheduled to have people from the sports field coming to the U.N. to speak about their own experience.

But since the coronavirus outbreak, the U.N. created the #BeActive and #HealthyAtHome campaign. 

IPS caught up with Nasser on what sports and being active means at a time we’re locked in our homes.

Inter Press Service (IPS): What is the mission of the #BeActive and #StayAtHome activity?

Maher Nasser (MN): Every year, we choose a different focus. This year, we were looking at 75 years  of multilaterals in the U.N. and how we can talk about conversations in the future. How can sports play a role in getting us to a future where the people expect not only the 2030 agenda being implemented but also what else by the age of 2040 and 2050? But everything needs to be put in the context of today’s reality and that’s where #BeActive came from.

#BeActive is not just about the international day of sports. This is something that we want to make clear: the need to be active needs to be done on a regular basis. People are sitting at home, many people are working from home, other people have been laid off. When you’re confronting a pandemic, we don’t know whether that’s going to be a few weeks, or few more months — and we pay a price for not being active. And [we mean], not only active physically but also active mentally to enable people to go through this with the least amount of long term damage to their health. 

IPS: How can sports play a role in times of a crisis situation as we are in now?

MN: The whole notion of the international day of sports was looking back on moments of crisis. In the early days when the olympics used to take place in Greece, warring used to stop [during that time]. We know that competition is something that is inherent in human nature and competition in sports is a peaceful competition. You can compete, you can support different clubs, teams and at the end of the day you do it peacefully. And sports have led to massive improvements in people’s lives, investments, big games have given the economy a boost. 

So, sports is not only encouraging peaceful competition but also leads to development of technology in things that we use eventually in everyday lives.

In situations where there’s a lot of energy among young people, sports can be a positive space for them to use that energy to build on to improve their lives. 

IPS: As a marathoner, what does lockdown mean for you in terms of having lost access to sports and outdoor activities?

MN: I took up running only six years ago…Running a marathon is something I always thought about doing but couldn’t get around to doing it. I was introduced to the concept of fundraising through social media, and without that I probably would’ve never probably become a marathoner. 
In 2014, I ran a race and raised $6,000 and sent them to refugees in Gaza.

In 2015, I qualified for running the marathon, put it on Facebook to raise funds for scholarships for women in Gaza and the West Bank because I know women have fewer opportunities to go to university unless their university [fees] are covered. 

After the first contribution came in, then you’re morally committed. You can’t not do it. I can’t tell you how many times I regretted doing it — with the training having to run five times a week but eventually I raised $26,000 and that was enough for three scholarships. 

I finished and I told my wife whatever happens again, never let me run. Afterwards, I received letters from the young women who got the scholarships and I signed up again. I ran in 2016 and 2017 and raised funds for four more scholarships.

IPS: For a lot of people, their mental health is tied to their physical activity, which has been affected. Do you have any advice for them?

MN: So I grew up with curfews. We had weeks-long curfews stuck at home. In those days, sometimes we would break the curfew to go out and visit a friend, or just out of defiance. But now getting out isn’t about yourself, it’s also about the people with you and whether you want to risk bringing the virus to your loved ones. And I think the advice that we have is to stay at home and to avoid any unnecessary interaction with people outside your household so staying home is necessary until we manage to contain this virus.

Staying home can have a toll on your body and a bigger toll on your mind so I think it’s important for people to create a programme for themselves and [not] just let the day drag on.

IPS: Many are comparing this lockdown to how communities live under occupation live. As someone who grew up in Ramallah, how do you feel about that? Is it a fair comparison?

MN: I don’t think it’s an issue of comparing situations. What is clear now is that the crisis has created a situation where the entire world has been shown that no matter where you live, no matter how rich you are, no matter how powerful your position is, you can get the virus and end up in the ICU. And that the most vulnerable are the ones that are probably still paying the highest price. Viruses know no borders and as such we’re as strong as the weakest link in the health system in the world. So, we can get rid of the virus in Europe and the United States but if the virus continues somewhere else it could mutate and it could come back.

What is important is that people can now maybe empathise more with people who have to live through curfews or with hardship but nobody needs to live like this. And what we need to do now is ensure we build better health systems, we’re better prepared and the U.N. has an agenda for this. We can’t go back to business as usual: when we go back, recovery needs to be a recovery to build better.

Debunking 9 Popular Myths Doing the Rounds in Africa About the Coronavirus

We have identified nine misconceptions doing the rounds on social media in Africa and set out to counter them. The purpose of debunking these myths is to provide people with trusted information.

By External Source
Apr 13 2020 – In the second week of March the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared COVID-19 a pandemic. By mid-March the disease had spread rapidly in many countries around the world.

Governments are taking drastic steps, including the complete lockdown of cities, as well as extensive health interventions to try and stem the disease which is caused by a new coronavirus called SARS-CoV-2.

There is still a great deal that’s not known about SARS-CoV-2. This limited scientific information has contributed to a slew of myths and misconceptions. Some claims being made are harmless. Others can be potentially dangerous.

We have identified nine misconceptions doing the rounds on social media in Africa and set out to counter them. The purpose of debunking these myths is to provide people with trusted information. And to provide people with valid scientifically backed answers which they can share on social media to counter the misinformation and disinformation out there.


Myth 1: SARS-CoV-2 does not affect Africans

Across the continent rumours have been rife that the virus does not affect black people. This was fuelled partly by the fact that a Cameroonian student in China, who was among the first people to contract the disease, responded well to treatment.

But there is no proof that melanin protects black people from the coronavirus. There is also no scientific evidence that African blood composition prevents Africans from contracting the coronavirus.

This misinformation persisted even after the deaths of high-profile black Africans, such as legendary Cameroonian musician Manu Dibango, and Zimbabwean media personality Zororo Makamba.

This myth is not limited to Africa. Twitter has recently been abuzz with claims of African-Americans being immune to coronavirus.


Myth 2: SARS-CoV-2 cannot survive in Africa’s warm climate

This myth arose after research, which hadn’t been peer reviewed, pointed to temperature having a role in the survival of the virus. One of the most widely quoted sources was John Nicholls, a pathology professor at Hong Kong university who said that “in cold environments, there is longer virus survival than warm ones”.

This claim, however, was not based on verified research. It was nevertheless seized on as proof that the virus cannot thrive in Africa’s warm climate.

According to the WHO, the virus can be transmitted to all areas, event hot and humid countries.

The only continent that has no cases of COVID-19 is Antarctica. This could change.


Myth 3: Spray alcohol and chlorine all over your body

Using hand sanitisers that contain 60% or more of alcohol has been found to kill the coronavirus. But, there has been a myth that spraying alcohol and chlorine will kill the virus.

Alcohol and chlorine will not kill the virus if it has entered the body already.

Spraying alcohol all over your body can be harmful, particularly to your eyes and mouth. Importantly, the alcohol in the sanitiser is not the same as the alcohol that people drink. The latter ranges up to 40% while hand sanitisers need to be 60% and above.


Myth 4: Drink black tea first thing in the morning

The media in Kenya have been reporting on false claims that drinking black tea first thing in the morning is effective against the COVID-19 disease.

This is untrue. There is no evidence to suggest that tea can protect a person from the virus. These claims can result in a sense of false security and can be dangerous.

Coronavirus can be prevented by maintaining a safe social distance and washing your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds.


Myth 5: Pepper soup with lime or lemon flushes out the virus

The pepper soup myth has been circulating mostly in Nigeria.

Pepper has anti-oxidant, detoxification and antimicrobial properties. But, there is no evidence that it prevents or kills SARS-CoV-2. It is also a rich source of vitamin C, which helps maintain a good immune system.

Likewise, lemon and lime also contain high amounts of vitamin C. But there is no evidence to support the claim that they flush the virus out of an infected person’s system.


Myth 6: Steam your face with and inhale neem tree leaves

There have been claims, mostly in Ghana, that steam therapy with neem can prevent COVID-19. What we know is that according to ayurvedic medicine experts, neem can assist in strengthening the immune system and prevent viral infections.

Neem is known to exhibit immunomodulatory, anti-inflammatory, antihyperglycaemic, anti-oxidant and anticarcinogenic properties. But, the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention has emphasised that there is no clinical evidence to suggest that steaming and inhaling with neem will prevent coronavirus.


Myth 7: Vitamin C tablets prevent COVID-19

Vitamin C is a known anti-oxidant. It prevents damage to tissue in the body by neutralising free radicals, which are charged particles that cause damage to cells and tissues and result in inflammation. Vitamin C is also known to protect against pathogens.

But there is no proof that vitamin C can prevent one from contracting COVID-19 though there are trials being undertaken on the use of vitamin C among COVID-19 patient. None has provided conclusive proof.


Myth 8: Having had malaria makes one immune

There have been several social media posts that suggest that malarial endemic countries have a decreased risk of acquiring new coronavirus cases.

There is no evidence to support this.

Malaria – which is caused by a parasite and is transmitted from the bite of an infected Anopheles mosquito to humans – used to be treated with the drugs chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine. These have been used, respectively, as an anti-malarial and as an auto-immune disease drug for inflammation.

The over-hyping of chloroquine has led to worldwide shortages and resulted in people self-medicating. Experts have warned that high doses of the drug are toxic.


Myth 9: The flu injection will protect you

The fact that health practitioners encourage people to vaccinate themselves against the flu, might have led to the mistaken view that the flu shot protects against the new coronavirus.

No, it does not. The flu vaccine is only effective against the influenza virus – and even then against only some flu viruses.

Humans have been known to be affected by six coronaviruses, four causing the common cold. The other two were the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV) and Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) in 2002 and 2012, respectively.

Now there is a seventh coronavirus, the SARS-CoV-2.

There is no scientific evidence that a flu shot can protect people against coronaviruses.The Conversation

Neelaveni Padayachee, Lecturer, Department of Pharmacy and Pharmacology, University of the Witwatersrand and Lisa Claire du Toit, Associate Professor, University of the Witwatersrand


This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.