On December 31st, 2019 the world’s attention was turned towards China, where a pneumonia of unknown causes first detected in Wuhan was reported to the World Health Organization’s Country Office. As the first battle started, the world had no idea that 2020 would bring a new war, fought not with weapons but with medicine. Fast-forward a month later, January 30th, the outbreak was declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. In the following months, one by one, more than 180 countries worldwide, including Albania, became hosts of this yet unknown virus. Albania fought hard to eradicate this enemy and the government took extreme measures to prevent the wide spread of the virus; all terrestrial borders were closed, and flights were banned. Quarantine became our new normal. However, Albania’s Prime Minister Edi Rama announced that starting from May 18th, citizens will move freely, and shops, bars, and restaurants will be open. We asked Dr. Klaudia Stajka on her opinion regarding this matter. Dr. Stajka finished her studies at the University of Medicine of Tirana and is a doctor in the department of Cardiology in the cabinet of Electrophysiology at the American Hospital in Tirana. She is also a lecturer at the University of Medical Sciences Alexander Moisiu in Durres and writer for the “Psychology” magazine.
Interviewer: How is the American Hospital’s staff handling COVID-19 cases?
Dr. Stajka: The American Hospital has followed a corona-free policy. At the entrance of the hospital we have a pre triage where every patient that wants to have a particular medical service needs to answer questions related to their history of traveling and whether or not they are having any symptoms. Their temperature is also measured by a staff member; if high, they are not allowed to enter as it could potentially harm other patients and staff members. However, those who pass the pre triage are equipped with a mask and plastic gloves. With the exception of children and the elderly, they are not allowed to be accompanied by other people. The same policy is followed for those who contact us via phone prior to coming in-person. Also, the staff has been trained on how to properly use the Tyvek protective suits and implement all other safety measures to ensure their own security and their patients’.
Interviewer: The government is opening bars and restaurants on May 18th. Do you think this is a wise decision taking into consideration the current situation in Albania?
Dr. Stajka: I think that since patient zero was diagnosed, our country took all the right measures at the right time. The national isolation ensured a steady curb in comparison with that of other countries, such as Italy. The opening of bars, restaurants, and services is a reasonable step considering that the temperatures are getting high, the virus is weakened, a part of the population is immune, and the probability of infection is going to be quite small. Of course, that does not mean we will be completely safe, and life will continue as before. Another part of the population could get infected, but since the virus will be weak, I believe the disease will be much easier to heal. I am a little bit skeptical regarding the measures that restaurants are going to take, such as respecting the distance and serving in open spaces. I am afraid they will not be respected. The only positive aspect is that they will serve only in open spaces, as it allows the virus to circulate less in the air. I believe in our immunity, clime, and also in the fact that the vaccine against TBC will protect our population. Taking these into consideration, the 18th of May is quite an appropriate date for bars, restaurants, and other activities to be opened. However, I insist that after the opening, we keep surveying the suspected patients or persons that might have symptoms for the next 3 weeks to determine whether or not we should continue our normal routine or go back to isolation. Only then we will be sure if opening bars and restaurants was a wise decision.
Interviewer: Do you think that schools and universities should also be open on the 18th of May?
Dr. Stajka: When it comes to the openings of schools and universities, I believe it is too early for kindergartens and primary schools; they should continue to stay closed. Matura graduates and senior students should be the only ones that are allowed to return. Even then, all safety measures must be respected. It is vital that they stay at least 1.5 meters away from each other and wear masks and plastic gloves. Even though school grounds are frequently disinfected, they are closed spaces, so the risk that the virus is not circulated properly is much higher. In my opinion, it is impossible to stop the students from socializing, it is quite normal after being in quarantine for more than 2 months, but at least they should gather in very small groups. Also, they should keep their masks on at all times.
Interviewer: According to research, it is possible that there will be a second wave of COVID-19. Do you agree?
Dr. Stajka: Yes, I believe that there might be a second wave in Fall, but it will definitely be weaker than the first one. That is because the population will be immune for the most part and the power of transmission will be significantly less. The virus will start to adapt to our immunity and clime, similarly to other viruses throughout the history of civilization. Still, I strongly hope that this virus will not mutate. The production of the vaccine must be sped up in order to be sure that life as we know it will continue free of the Coronavirus. I am partial to doing as many blood tests as possible and conducting lots of research before Fall is here. These blood tests will become a reflection of how much of the population has passed the virus and who is most likely to be immune. If we have those results, then we can predict the number of infections in the second wave and we can also be prepared to better handle the situation in order to avoid a second isolation. I think that better days are ahead of us. Cheer up and stay positive, but do not forget to protect yourself.
Xhulia is a sophomore at University of New York at Tirana. Since a young age, she spent most of her time reading books, writing short stories, painting, and playing instruments. As she strives to extend her knowledge of different cultures around the world, Xhulia enjoys movies in foreign languages, especially French and Spanish. At Insider, Xhulia is Vice Editor for the 1st Managing Board. She seeks to bring her expertise in culture and globalization.