Why Hygiene is the Way Out of This Pandemic

Mother pouring hand sanitizer on her daughter's hands

Most of Europe is re-opening for business and leisure. A growing sense of safety is lowering people’s guard across the region and people are getting tired of complying with social distancing and hygiene measures. However, to eradicate the disease, we cannot abandon our commitment to heightened standards for hygiene.  

The SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus pandemic has brought to light the strengths and weaknesses of our labour, economic and healthcare systems.

The inability to scale up personal protective equipment (PPE) supply was immediately evident.  A lack of hospital beds, protective equipment and medical supplies impeded the care of critical patients in the hardest-hit countries, including France, Spain and Italy. The peak in Europe has now passed and the hardship has brought the region closer together. In a coordinated effort, the European Commission has introduced the EU4Health €9.4 billion fund to build further preparedness and create a healthy stock of the critical supplies in order to protect healthcare systems from shortages1

The coronavirus continues to infect our population at discreet rates, with clusters emerging as lockdown eases in Europe. We cannot take for granted the extraordinary measures that were put in place in time of confinement as we return to normality.  Dr Andrea Ammon, director of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), and Dr Hans Kluge, director for the WHO European region, have both delivered warnings that Europe should brace for a second wave. Consistent attention to greater standards of hygiene is the safest and most sustainable way out of this pandemic and back into economic growth as the journey back to the new normal begins.

And the new normal is well on its way.  Most European markets have reopened, restaurants are welcoming guests again, offices are reopening, and social gatherings are taking place in the warmth of the coming summer. The global reservation platform for restaurants, Opentable, shows strong recovery with booking levels in Germany on June 28, 2020 at higher level than the previous year2

However, encouraging signs from the hospitality industry cannot lead to complacency. People will start to forget about social distancing and other safety measures as the memory of the lockdown continues to fade, potentially leading to a second wave. A May 29 research by the French Public Health authority showcased that compliance with the four hygiene measures recommended by the WHO, such as frequent hand washing or covering mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing, had already fallen by almost 10% since the end of March3. Continued campaigning to educate about the importance of hand washing, cleaning and disinfection could help lower that risk as we wait for a vaccine. 

The pandemic has brought sanitation and hygiene, normally a “behind the scenes” activity, into the forefront. When the pandemic first arose, exponential demand for surface disinfectant and hand sanitizer took the industry by storm. Our company, for example, has expanded our supply chain capacity by seven-fold in Europe to support the higher standard of cleanliness that the public expects as all industries come out of the lockdown.

This demand is not fading away anytime soon. Nor should it. The heightened compliance with hand and environmental hygiene in time of the pandemic is already having beneficial, ripple effects. Increased hygiene measures directly lower healthcare related infections (HAIs) and lessen the use of antibiotics. Home and community hygiene can help reduce hundreds of thousands of deaths a year from antimicrobial resistance (AMR), according to a new paper published in the American Journal of Infection Control and developed on behalf of the Global Hygiene Council.

We needed this wake-up call. Hand hygiene compliance had always been an issue, especially in healthcare setting. Studies had found that only 38.7% of healthcare workers washed their hands often enough and well enough4. As the virus spread across Europe, every individual woke up to the importance of simply washing hands with soap and water or rubbing hands with disinfectant. 

It will be every individual’s duty to follow through on hygiene actions, keeping hands and surfaces clean to stop a resurgence of the virus. Citizens will have to be continuously educated about the importance of personal hygiene measures, while businesses will need to showcase their cleanest and safest behaviors.  Visible commitment to hygiene helps everyone feel safer and healthier as employees rub their hands with sanitizer or a guest sees a waitress or supermarket aid clean a surface. Three quarters of respondents to a survey in the U.K. say good hygiene will impact their decision to visit a restaurant more than before the lockdown5. It is vital to healthcare facilities that continue to care for patients and research facilities that are racing to develop a vaccine. It also is critical to producing safe food and providing clean water. 

We need a concerted, ongoing effort to protect our way of life. Hygiene is a safe and sustainable way out of this pandemic and into a cleaner and healthier future. 



(1) https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/SPEECH_20_965

(2) https://www.opentable.com/state-of-industry

(3) https://www.santepubliquefrance.fr/etudes-et-enquetes/covid-19-une-enquete-pour-suivre-l-evolution-des-comportements-et-de-la-sante-mentale-pendant-l-epidemie#block-242830

(4) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5668933/#R11 Allegranzi B, Gayet-Ageron A, Damani N, Bengaly L, McLaws ML, Moro ML, Memish Z, Urroz O, Richet H, Storr J, et al. Global implementation of WHO's multimodal strategy for improvement of hand hygiene: a quasi-experimental study. Lancet Infect Dis. 2013;13:843–851.

(5) https://www.foodsafetynews.com/2020/05/survey-finds-hygiene-focus-when-eating-out-after-covid-19-lockdown/

About the Author

Sam de Boo, EVP & President Western Europe, Ecolab

EVP & President Western Europe, Ecolab

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