In early January this year news began to circulate about a new strain of coronavirus that was sweeping across China, and that originated in the province of Wuhan.  Dubbed COVID-19, this strain was deemed to be more contagious and deadly than previous strains of the virus. China moved quickly to contain it, but with international travel today it was inevitable that it would spread across the world. Unfortunately, it has spread globally, and at a rapid pace. As the news began to report more and more cases of the disease worldwide, and with so much still unknown about it, how it spreads and how to contain it, I began to get very anxious about it.

First Thing First – What Exactly is COVID-19?

According to www.nhs.uk, coronavirus (or COVID-19) is a new illness that can affect your lungs and airways. It is not yet known exactly how it is spread from person to person, but similar viruses are spread in cough droplets. Unlike other flu and cold viruses’ symptoms of coronavirus have 3 distinct areas including a fever, cough and shortness of breath. However, it is still very hard to distinguish coronavirus from other flu and cold viruses.

Current guidance for dealing with the outbreak includes:

  • Wash your hands with soap and water often – do this for at least 20 seconds
  • Always wash your hands when you get home or into work
  • Use hand sanitiser gel if soap and water are not available
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when you cough or sneeze
  • Put used tissues in the bin immediately and wash your hands afterwards
  • Try to avoid close contact with people who are unwell
  • Don’t touch your face or eyes if your hands are not clean

Those with underlying health conditions and the elderly are most at risk from coronavirus.

At first, government advice was to self-isolate at home for 14 days if you developed a cough, fever or shortness of breath, or if someone in your household developed symptoms. But as the outbreak has progressed, government advice is now to self-isolate for 7 days with ANY symptoms that are cold or flu like.

They also said that anyone who could work from home for the foreseeable future should work from home to help contain the spread of the virus. I’ve been working from home since 2015, and I am already used to doing this with no problems.

The Global Response to the Coronavirus Outbreak

Most countries in the world are now affected by the coronavirus outbreak, but the epicentre of it seems to have moved from China where it originated to Europe, and in particular, in Italy. Italy is currently on a complete lockdown, as is Spain, and other countries are following suit. Last week the coronavirus outbreak was officially declared a global pandemic.

Panic buying in the shops and supermarkets has been seen all over the world, with people clearing the shelves of items such as toilet paper, tinned food, pasta, UHT milk, rice and other non-perishable items. I’ve seen panic buying first-hand where I live in Worcester, with huge queues at supermarkets and people literally grabbing what they can off the shelves as if they are preparing for Armageddon, a nuclear war or the end of the world. It really is truly frightening.

My Personal Response to the Coronavirus Outbreak

On Sunday 1 March 2020 my Dad, who is my absolute world, was admitted to the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford for tests and treatment after being diagnosed with an ultra-rare brain condition called CASPR2-antibody encephalitis on 8 January 2020. Due to this diagnosis my Dad is at HUGE risk as he falls into the “high risk” category due to his underlying health conditions. I am sure that if he contracted coronavirus, he would have NO chance whatsoever against it.

When he was admitted the number of coronavirus cases in the UK was still relatively low. Due to him being so far away from us, my Mum and I decided that we would visit my Dad twice a week. It is an hour and a half or more to get to the John Radcliffe Hospital in the car from Worcester and the parking there is atrocious. Instead we decided to travel by train and then a taxi or the bus when we visited my Dad.

My Mum and I made 3 trips by train and bus to visit my Dad while he was in hospital, and by the third trip I felt like I was playing Russian roulette with coronavirus. People had learnt NOTHING and were coughing and spluttering away without covering their mouth or using a tissue. By this time the death toll was up to 10 and the number of confirmed coronavirus cases was around the 750 mark, with 7 confirmed cases in Oxford.

While other countries including Italy and Spain moved to lockdown to try and contain the spread of the virus as well as cancelling mass gatherings including sporting events and conferences, the UK took no such stance. The USA closed its borders to people travelling there from Europe, and from tomorrow it will close its borders to people travelling there from the UK and Ireland.

Our government will possibly be taking other measures to contain the spread of coronavirus such as asking the over 70’s to stay at home for up to 4 months, but so far they have not closed schools or banned mass gatherings. Some have been cancelled or postponed anyway, for example, the London Marathon due to take place in April has been moved to the Autumn.

After my last visit to see my Dad in hospital in Oxford last Wednesday, I took the decision to self-isolate myself as much as possible to try and mitigate the possibility of contracting coronavirus.

Why Have I Decided to Self-Isolate Without Symptoms?

Before I go into why I have made a decision to self-isolate myself as much as possible, I should say that what I am doing isn’t necessarily right for everyone. However, I think we all need to weigh up our own personal risk factors when deciding what is best for us on an individual basis in response to the coronavirus outbreak.

I have made my decision due to my Dad’s poor health from CASPR2-antibody encephalitis, and because he falls into the high-risk category for contracting coronavirus. My Dad is my absolute world, and while I know I could potentially fight off and recover from coronavirus, I am sure that my Dad with all his underlying health problems would stand no chance against it.

Until further notice, I will NOT be doing any of the following things:

  • Travelling on any kinds of public transport including train, plane, bus, tube or taxi.
  • Attending any cyber security or work-related events, conferences or meetings.
  • Going to Costa coffee for catch ups with my friends.
  • Going to the cinema with my friends.
  • Eating out in restaurants with my friends.
  • Going into town shopping, or to Malvern retail park shopping.
  • Going to the gym.

As I work from home anyway, I will be able to continue everything I am doing with my work with the one exception in that I have pulled out of being a speaker at some cyber security related events and conferences. For example, I pulled out of speaking at this year’s Cloud and Cyber Security Expo and the Think Cyber Security for Government event. I’ve also been asked to speak at some other leading cyber security events and conferences, but I’ve said no to them all. I do wonder if they will go ahead in the light of the coronavirus outbreak, as many have been cancelled or postponed already.

I am always happy to take part in any online or virtual events and conferences (in fact, I’m taking part in one led by Infosecurity Magazine on 25 March) or have meetings via video call, Skype or Zoom instead of face to face. The next speaking engagement that I have in my diary is 28/29 April for the Identity and Access Management Summit event, but I will monitor things closely and if the situation is still bad with the coronavirus outbreak I will cancel that too (I have already been in touch with the organisers about it).

I had SUCH great plans for this year in terms of keynote speaking engagements and other speaking engagements, especially as I had to put these on hold last year to look after my Dad. But the risk is just too great, events and conferences are being cancelled and postponed left right and centre, and it is far better to be safe than sorry. If I can do them virtually or online, then great, but if not – they don’t happen. It is as simple as that.

The ONLY things I will be doing during this period of self-isolation are:

  • Walking my dog Poppy 2 – 3 times a day. I never encounter anyone on our walks, she still needs her walks and I need a bit of fresh air. Sure, someone could have gone past where I walk who has sneezed who has coronavirus, but I’ve deemed the risk to be a small one.
  • 1 x weekly food shop (as my husband and I still need to eat) early on a Saturday morning. That said, after yesterday’s experience of the weekly food shop, I am considering whether to do my food shopping online for a bit. I’ve never fancied doing that as I like to choose the items myself, and I am very funny about sell-by dates and always like to get fresh items with as long a sell-by date as possible. I can’t control that with online shopping.
  • Checking, if needed, on my parents (especially when my Dad is out of hospital as he is due out any time now). As I will only be doing the above two things, I have deemed the risk of checking on them low. However, again I will monitor this risk and I might have to take a further decision not to check on them.

I get that to some people this all might appear extreme. If you think that it is, that’s fine. I have weighed up my own personal risk to coronavirus and made my decision to self-isolate as much as possible accordingly. Of course, I will monitor the situation and make any changes based on how things go over the next few weeks.

Luckily my husband and I are home bodies anyway. We prefer being in the comfort of our own home, and he already goes out far less than I do and works from home like me (we are lucky enough to have an office at home each). For my husband self-isolation has already been a way of life for a long time.

If I need anything, I will order it online as far as possible. I will limit visitors to my home as far as possible. When deliveries arrive, I will keep a distance when answering the door. For now, my home is my castle – in more ways than one.

Ironically, my husband and I installed a home gym in January this year. In February we installed a home cinema system complete with retractable large screen and projector for films. At the time my husband said that if ever we are stuck at home, we have everything we need here to keep us busy and entertained. Little did I realise that a few short weeks later I would be making the decision to self-isolate in this way. We literally do have everything we need at home to self-isolate as much as possible and to ride this coronavirus storm out. We are very lucky indeed.

During this period of self-isolation I will be motoring on with the UK Cyber Security Association and working on that, and I have some plans for interviews, content, videos and podcasts under the UKCSA banner which I will get underway in the next few weeks. I will finish proof reading and launch my book “The Rise of the Cyber Women” (I had to put the release date back slightly as so much of my time last month was taken up with getting my Dad in front of Professor Sarosh Irani to be treated for his CASPR2-antibody encephalitis), attending to lots of small things that I have been putting off at home and enjoying my home cinema system and home gym. I have plenty of things to do, plenty of things to be getting on with, and I know I won’t be at all bored!

I have also made a decision to change the membership model of the UK Cyber Security Association slightly to being a virtual one with all future employees being based remotely from home and all events taking place virtually. That may change when the coronavirus outbreak is more under control, but for now it is definitely the right thing to do.

I know that I can’t control everything. Despite my best efforts I could still contract coronavirus, as so much is still unknown about it and how it transmits from person to person. But I am safe in the knowledge that even if I do contract it, I have done all I can to try and mitigate my risk of contracting it. And that is all I can do.

What are you doing to mitigate the risk of contracting coronavirus? Do you think the outbreak is a big storm in a teacup? What do you think about all the panic buying that is going on? I’d love to hear your thoughts, please leave me a comment below!

mm

Lisa Ventura is an award-winning Cyber Security consultant and is the CEO and Founder of the UK Cyber Security Association (UKCSA), a membership association that is dedicated raising awareness and educating small businesses, SME’s, large corporate companies and the general public as to the importance of cyber security. Lisa is also a thought leader, author and keynote speaker and has been published in various publications globally. She is fascinated by all things related to nuclear war and loves dogs, the gym/keep fit, the rock band Queen, Freddie Mercury, sci-fi, films and TV series from the 1980s, especially American soap operas such as Dallas, Falcon Crest, Dynasty and Knots Landing.