Personal hygiene is our first line of defence against COVID-19


  • The first and most important line of defence during a pandemic is maintaining personal hygiene to protect both yourself and those around you.
  • There could also be many other potentially lasting impacts resulting from the pandemic, and we can do our part to defend ourselves and emerge stronger from this ordeal.
  • This includes being mindful of the economic impacts, building resilience to psychological impacts, maintaining our social networks, and checking the legitimacy of information in an increasingly digital world.

The coronavirus outbreak has caused panic and anxiety in the hearts of people globally.

Just to give ourselves a sense of proportion: SARS affected 8,000 people and killed 800, and it lasted about eight months. COVID-19 affected 10 million and killed 500,000 in the same period.

We need to prepare for both the short- and medium-term effects of this virus. Beyond preserving our health, we also have to prepare for the larger economic damage that COVID-19 may bring during and after the virus end. We need to address this crisis with a Total Defence Strategy which involves everyone playing our part to build strong, secure, and cohesive communities.

I am the Founder of the World Toilet Organisation, a global movement promoting Hygiene and Sustainable Sanitation since 2001. Our founding day 19 November is now instituted unanimously by all 193 Governments of the United Nations General Assembly as the official UN World Toilet Day.

Each of us as individuals can play a part in changing the environment around us, especially in a time of crisis like this. So any concept of Total Defence must start with personal defence.

Personal defence

Our first line of defence is personal hygiene: Wash your hands often with soap. Wash for 20 seconds thoroughly. Cut fingernails. Wear a mask at all times outside your home. The World Toilet Organisation is now preparing the World Toilet Standards and Design Guidelines to break the pathogen transmission pathways from people to surfaces. This includes touch-free designs, ventilation, cleaning, disposal, and treatment of excreta. It’ll also cover toilets in transportation, education, tourism, workplaces, religious buildings, sports, slums, and rural areas. This authoritative publication should be ready next year. A council of experts is now being selected.

Economic defence

The coronavirus will kill businesses and jobs faster than it kills people. While we are mitigating the spread of the virus, businesses are closing down. Even before the outbreak of COVID-19, digitisation, automation, and robotisation were already replacing jobs rapidly. Use this time to learn new digital skills to work online. In the future, you’ll need to be both a specialist and a generalist, and understand how your work integrates into the work of others. Therefore, you’ll also need to learn attributes like curiosity, courage, compassion, commitment, collaboration, and calmness. Such skills will allow you to do what the robots can’t do and stay relevant. Stay frugal in the meanwhile.

Psychological defence

As the economic effect hit us, our mental health is even more important than our financial health.
Learn to solve problems constructively and positively. During this epidemic period, job losses may lead to a loss of identity, pride, and a sense of worthlessness. These are self-inflicted and you have to be very careful to stay calm and composed. If you have a financial problem, it is one problem. But if you’re stressed by that financial problem, you’ve created a second emotional problem. Therefore, you need to learn to build resilience to prevent the second problem.

Social defence

Make an effort to ensure we don’t affect each other so that all will be safe. Wear a mask at all times outside your home. Sufferings have a tendency of bringing people together. The strengths of your social fabric depend on how much people care for each other. Spend the quality time with your family as you have always wanted to do. The crisis might be the opportunity for family bonding that is priceless.

Digital defence

Social media can be helpful to update and alert us to situations as they evolve. But do avoid forwarding unauthenticated rumours by scaremongers. Check the legitimacy of the posts before spreading them. Use social media to give each other encouragement instead. Although the virus is a terrible thing, this period is also an opportunity for us in nation-building as a people. We’ll learn how to appreciate normal life when it returns. Lend a hand to people suffering during this period.

If you survive this crisis, you emerge stronger and better as a community and will cherish every moment the people who helped you get through the crisis, as well as the people you’ve helped.

Jack Sim, Founder of World Toilet Organization, has been a successful businessman since age 24. Having achieved financial success in his 40s, Jack felt the need to change his direction in life and give back to humanity. Jack left his business and embarked on a journey to fight for the dignity, rights and health for the vulnerable and poor worldwide.

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