What does life after curfew have in store for us all? All of us are preparing for a long-awaited return to ‘normalcy’ or at least the expected ‘new normal’ to kickstart the economy. Yet, the unprecedented crisis at hand requires us to keep in mind safe hygiene practices and precautions when re-entering our work environments.
In hopes of rebuilding a functioning world, an increase of human-centred design strategies has erupted towards mitigating the spread of pandemics. This push towards the inclusion of innovative solutions enhances existing frameworks in place to combat the coronavirus. As part of this push, research hubs have made a mark as invaluable actors to pay attention to.
By processing data extracted during this dystopian period, their findings can guide our understanding of even more progressive solutions. In turn, solve many of the problems fronted globally, such as food security, clean energy, and the growing concern of pandemics. Even in Sri Lanka, we’re seeing a number of homegrown solutions have surfaced from pioneering research hubs like the SLINTEC Sterile coating from Sri Lanka Institute of Nanotechnology Pvt Ltd (SLINTEC).
The dangers of work during a pandemic
The world of work is being profoundly affected by the global virus pandemic. Global solidarity in tackling the coronavirus as we return to work should force us to not only think of our productivity but of our personal wellbeing as well. Efforts are already being undertaken by multinational organizations such as the International Labour Organization (ILO), with governments and businesses all paying close attention to plans that can reduce the risks of infection.
In Sri Lanka, the Employees Federation of Ceylon asserted the need for mobilizing an Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) committee that would make arrangements for businesses. The committee would be tasked with implementing measures as per the guidelines from health officials. These include ensuring social distancing within the workplace, making special arrangements to sanitize premises, allocate personnel to enforce good hygiene practices, arrange transport facilities, and other precautionary measures.
But as countries ease restrictions put in place to curb the virus, there is a shift from work from home back to offices. With this shift, there now exists a growing demand for sanitisation technologies globally and the antimicrobial coatings market is projected to reach USD 4.2 billion by 2021 as stated by IPI Singapore. One such coating developed locally in Sri Lanka is SLINTEC Sterile.
SLINTEC and SLINTEC Sterile
Based in Sri Lanka, SLINTEC is a private-public research institute primarily focusing on six areas. These areas are advanced materials, smart textiles, advanced agriculture, graphene technologies, energy research and process and engineering systems. In aligning with its founding mission, SLINTEC has dedicated resources to finding innovative and internationally competing solutions to address the current dilemmas faced by the public.
Since then, as the pandemic spread, the institute has been supporting local efforts to fight the virus. A notable example was when Sri Lanka rushed to increase its testing capacity. Responding to this, SLINTEC in collaboration Medical Research Institute and Hi-Fashion has introduced cotton swabs, which can be locally manufactured. Having received approval from the National Medicine Regulatory Authority (NMRA), these are a crucial component needed to gain samples for coronavirus tests to be conducted. “It is very comforting SLINTEC took on this challenge. Without that, we would be reliant on imported stuff and we were running short due to a global shortage,” said Prof. Asitha De Silva, Head of the NMRA, commenting on the initiative.
The latest of these developments by SLINTEC against the coronavirus is an antimicrobial coating known as SLINTEC Sterile. To kill viruses and other microbes, SLINTEC Sterile relies on a chemical reaction called photocatalysis. In simple terms, light hits the coat and begins a chemical reaction. This reaction attacks the molecules of the virus and other microbes both on the surface and in the surrounding air.
The coating is applied in two stages. The first stage is where the premises are disinfected to remove any existing contaminations. Afterwards, the SLINTEC Sterile. The coating is applied on surfaces for extended protection. According to tests conducted by SLINTEC, the coating offers protection up to a period of 6 months. These tests took place at a star-grade hotel bedroom and were verified by a third-party government institute. SLINTEC has also confirmed that the effectiveness of the coating is not affected by indoor lighting and household cleaning agents.
In conversation with Dr Rangika De Silva, Head of technology transfer at SLINTEC, he added that the research institute donated 10 litres of SLINTEC Sterile coating to Homagama Base hospital, which has been declared to serve as a COVID-19 treatment facility.
The Coronavirus and Research-Based Mitigation Efforts
Antimicrobial coatings show potential as a passive approach to the global mitigation strategy of containing bacterial pathogens. Collaborations between businesses and research labs can push new technologies such as SLINTEC Sterile into places of work. Of course, alongside this, there are several other measures that businesses can take to minimize the risk of infection. Ultimately, the coronavirus will force us to rethink how we work until a cure is developed. Therefore, given these particularly trying times, an environment where employees can work with the knowledge precautions have been taken would set minds at ease.