The Post-Corona Era

Jul 17, 2020

The Baraka Khan Foundation (BKF) and East London Mosque Trust (ELMT) held an informative online event with Dr Mazen Sawaf, Founder of the Emirates Hospital and Novomed, on the pertinent topic of a post-coronavirus era.

In the online event, which has received thousands of views in less than 24 hours, Dr Mazen Sawaf, who is based in Dubai, along with Iqbal Khan, CEO of Fajr Capital, and Habibur Rahman, Chairman of the East London Mosque Trust speaking from the East London Mosque, discussed how the global community moves forward from this pandemic, and what precautions people should be taking.

The event opened with a recitation of the Qur’an by Nowshad Mahfuz, followed by Chairman of the ELMT,Habibur Rahman, who welcomed viewers to the online event:

“We are going through unprecedented times – through this Allah ﷻ is reminding us, testing us and giving us an opportunity. There have been some positives in this very sad time, and Allah blessed us with Ramadan. We have had more time with the family and been able to establish Salah [prayer] in the house. At the same time, we have very sadly lost many brothers and sisters to Covid-19, and this has been a very difficult time for our community.”

As part of chairing the event, Iqbal Khan, CEO of Fajr Capital, expressed his sorrow at the loss of life from Covid-19 by saying:

“On behalf of this mosque and on behalf of the Baraka Khan Visitor Gallery, our thoughts and prayers are with the families who have lost loved ones, and have been afflicted by this terrible calamity. Throughout this period, the mosque and its members have continued to pray for relief, for Allah’s mercy to prevail, so that humanity can once again live life normally. So, our prayers are with all the communities here and abroad.”

What history teaches us about Pandemics

Iqbal Khan introduced Dr Mazen Sawaf, who began by explaining a brief history of previous pandemics, referencing the Spanish flu from 1918. He acknowledged people are getting “tired of the lockdown” and “can’t wait to celebrate the end of this horrible pandemic.”

Speaking about the Spanish flu from history, Dr Mazen Sawaf said, “I don’t want to be an alarmist, we need to take a little look at history. In 1918 there was the Spanish flu – it came in three waves. In the first wave, people died and there was a lockdown similar what is happening now. Then after a long lockdown they celebrated and left [lockdown]; in the second wave 500 million people who got infected and nearly 50 million people died. Of course, today we have better communication, tracking, hospitalisation etc… but the fact is like back then, we didn’t know what we were dealing with – we didn’t have a vaccine and we didn’t have a cure – and the same thing applies today.”

He continued, “The pandemic is not over and will not be over anytime soon, we have to live with it. The pandemic is an endemic, and will be with us for quite some time, and it may possibly come back in the winter.”

Wider health impact of the coronavirus

While the economic impact of the pandemic was obvious globally because people have not been able to work in the same way, Dr Mazen Sawaf stressed that “depriving people from taking care of their high blood pressure, heart disease, and cancer treatment”, could potentially mean “50 million people or more” lose their lives throughout the world. He said, “numbers don’t paint the complete picture” and that “one third of the people who walk around and infect others are completely asymptomatic”, whilst 15% of those who get infected require urgent medical attention and even basic treatment such as oxygen, but in poorer countries and in remote regions there is no oxygen available.

What should people do to avoid infections?

Talking about who gets infected, Dr Mazen Sawaf said: “We’ve seen young people get infected and end up in serious trouble, and definitely anyone above 60 with high blood pressure, diabetes and their immune system compromised should be very, very careful – they could potentially die – and even if they don’t die, their lung function could become crippled, so they won’t be able to be active as before.” He then touched upon some of the key areas mentioned below in order to fight the spread of Covid-19:

Wearing Masks, Travel and Precautions

The rule about masks is “science” Dr Mazen Sawaf explained. He highlighted the case of Taiwan from 2004 with the SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) crisis, and how they learned from the outbreak to create a “culture” of just putting on a mask, so they don’t infect others. In the current pandemic crisis, out of a total “29 million people”, only 7 people have died, even though there is frequent movement of people between Taiwan and China. Dr Mazen Sawaf emphasised, “Masks are a key component of protection and in not infecting others.”

He continued, if “you cannot avoid travelling” and you need to go somewhere, especially on a plane, then to wear a mask and to also “fast” if your health permits so you don’t have to move the mask away from your face. He also explained that “fasting is good” as it has health benefits. “If possible, try to get the N95 mask, with a filter on it which is used by medical personnel,” he explained, as it is better than standard masks.

Dr Mazen Sawaf also stressed the importance of taking lessons from the East, from countries such as Japan and South Korea where people remove shoes before entering the house to avoid taking in unwanted germs and bacteria from outside.

Avoiding crowded places & social distancing

“It’s definitely a good idea to avoid crowded places for now,” Dr Mazen Sawaf said. He explained that the mosques being closed is the best move to protect the elderly until we have a vaccine and people are taking it. He also added that we should “continue to apply social distancing of at least 2m”.

Using our smartphone

Dr Mazen Sawaf explained that our smartphones promote bacteria through the residual heat given off by devices. He also explained, “some people use their phones in the bathrooms”, and that public toilets spaces are “full” of bacteria and germs, so try to avoid them if possible and frequently wash your hands “before and after” using them, as the handles and sink taps also have a potential risk of infecting people.

What about a vaccine?

Speaking about a potential viable vaccine being found, Dr Mazen Sawaf said, “I don’t expect that it will happen any time soon.” Whilst vaccines may be produced in the next three months, he explained, a year down the line they may actually have side effects, “which may not show up immediately.” He also highlighted a study in America, where “40% of doctors” expressed the fact that they will not take the vaccine, because it is being developed “fast-tracked” due to the political and economic pressure, which means crucial safety research might be missed. Dr Mazen Sawaf went onto explain, “unless everybody takes the vaccine around the world – if I’m not safe – then you’re not safe.” The better approach would be to develop a track and trace system, according to Dr Mazen Sawaf, as people can find out if they are infected very easily and then everybody that was in close contact with the patient can also be tested. He was hopeful though that a vaccine would be available “sooner than later”.

Increasing immunity

With regards to increasing immunity, Dr Mazen Sawaf said it was “very important” to get “proper” sleep. He went onto expound this point by saying, “most people are watching TV late at night or using their smartphones”, which is having a detrimental effect to peoples’ mental health because those forms of media “excite” a person’s brain to a temporary dopamine hit, as opposed to real contact with others, which produces a rise in serotonin levels that has a natural calming effect. Furthermore, he said, “if it takes a lot of caffeine to get up in the morning”, it is an indicator that a person is not getting quality sleep and that “sleep is essential to regenerate your immune system.” “Stress and worrying about your job”, can increase cortisone levels, which also suppresses your immune system, according to Dr Mazen Sawaf.

In terms of remedial action to help the body’s immune system, Dr Mazen Sawaf said taking Zinc and Vitamin D, according to the correct dosage for one’s body mass, can boost the immune system.

Surviving the pandemic economically

“If we take the top 10 worse neighbourhoods in London in terms of economically, job opportunity, education, crime rate, income level, availability of fresh produce and quality of healthcare”, explained Dr Mazen Sawaf, that the demographics in those areas are likely to be 30% Pakistani, 20% are Bangladeshi, 15% Asians and Black communities, and due to historical inequalities and the types of work available to them, they will pay a “big price in the death rate”. However, he stressed that “people are uniting” in big cities to help one another.

Dr Mazen Sawaf cited a study which highlighted that people 60–70 years old are the most productive, as they can “focus” on tasks without the trappings of contemporary lifestyles. But he clarified that new business opportunities will arise out of lockdown as people who are unfamiliar with technology get to grips with it and make use of innovations, such as ‘Zoom’.

On making financial savings, Dr Mazen Sawaf said, “having savings for three to six months” is ideal so you can live on it without a job should people encounter problems. He emphasised the point in order to do this, “we need to cut down on the pleasure addictions”, and that we need to “live below our means”. Learning new skills is important and digital skills too, according to Dr Mazen Sawaf, as this makes one more employable.

Being content and healthy eating

On contentment and being happy, Dr Mazen Sawaf said this can be achieved through “becoming close to Allah”, and not just having a lifestyle of consumption and of “taking” all the time, but rather “giving too”, which gives you that “feeling of happiness”. “Cooking at home will make a big come back”, according to Dr Mazen Sawaf. He explained most foods are loaded with “sugar” and that instead when you cook at home, “that is the only time you know what you’re eating.” In addition, he explained one could use the cooking time to learn and listen to audio books or interacting with the family, and at the same time providing the family with a good meal. Importantly, Dr Mazen Sawaf said, “this could save you a lot of money”. He shared his personal experience of cooing Salmon, which provides ‘Triptophan Acid’ that generates serotonin and makes you happy in terms of chemicals in a brain.

Q&A Highlight

The event ended with a Q&A session, where one viewer asked Dr Mazen Sawaf, “how long do you think we will live with Covid-19?” He replied, “I think it is here to stay for a very long time, as I explained it is an endemic. It may die out eventually, once we develop a safe vaccine for everybody around the world, which I don’t see happening any time soon.” Also he stated, “because it is a RNA [Ribonucleic acid] and not DNA [Deoxyribonucleic acid], it can change and mutate, so even if we get rid of it over the next two to three years, there could be a Covid-21 and a Covid-23, so we have to learn to wash our hands forever, as we do anyway as part of our religion – but we should use soap too.”