Health Matters,  Socio-Political

Keep calm and wash your hands

In the midst of what’s happening in our communities with the Coronavirus, COVID-19, should we panic? We are told there is no need to panic. Even though the virus is now declared by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as a pandemic.

Should we just keep calm and wash our hands? No, we need to do more! As a senior social observer my eyes and ears are attuned to advice from medical experts and the government. I am sure you are like me and want to protect yourself from the virus.

Therefore, I was interested in the decisions of the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) meeting held yesterday in Sydney in regard to the Coronavirus, COVID-19. To keep informed I read the Communique. I was hoping to find out what protective measures Australia was taking to prevent the spread of the virus. However, the key points were global, and not what I was expecting.

The communique under the heading ‘Protecting Australians from the impact of coronavirus’ stated:

  1. We are one of the best-prepared countries in the world.
  2. Government leaders in Australia are leveraging their combined resources to slow the spread of the virus. (The emphasis in the communique is to stay ahead of the curve in minimising the impact of coronavirus on the Australian community and economy).
  3. Wellbeing and safety of Australians is the highest priority.
  4. Leaders will manage the risk based on the best and latest evidence and medical advice.
  5. COAG leaders welcomed the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee’s (AHPPC’s) development of a risk based decision-making tool for mass gatherings.
  6. Agreement was reached to commission real-time, transparent protocols to support a consistent approach to containment and preparedness for coronavirus.

Inoculating the economy from the virus

It was clear to me through the communique and the subsequent press conference there was concern about the economy due to the coronavirus outbreak. This is the reason the Morrison government has injected an $18 Billion stimulus package into the economy.

Similarly, economics was on the mind of Queensland’s Premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk last night, when she went to a football match at the newly completed $29 million stadium in Townsville. It could also have to do with winning votes at the State election, due in October 2020, as mentioned by some social commentators.

As I was looking for specifics about how to protect myself from the virus I visited the Australian Government Department of Health website. The information was as follows:

How is the coronavirus spread?

The coronavirus is most likely to spread from person-to-person through:

• direct close contact with a person while they are infectious

• close contact with a person with a confirmed infection who coughs or sneezes, or

• touching objects or surfaces (such as door handles or tables) contaminated from a cough or sneeze from a person with a confirmed infection, and then touching your mouth or face.

Most infections are only transmitted by people when they have symptoms. These can include fever, a cough, sore throat, tiredness and shortness of breath.

How can we help prevent the spread of coronavirus?

Practising good hand and sneeze/cough hygiene and keeping your distance from others when you are sick is the best defence against most viruses. You should:

• wash your hands frequently with soap and water, before and after eating, and after going to the toilet

• cover your cough and sneeze, dispose of tissues, and use alcohol-based hand sanitiser

• and if unwell, avoid contact with others (stay more than 1.5 metres from people).

What is social distancing?

One way to help slow the spread of viruses such as COVID-19 is social distancing. This means avoiding large public gatherings if they’re not essential and reducing visits to people at higher risk of developing serious symptoms, such as people in residential care facilities and remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. There’s no need to change your daily routine, but taking these social distancing precautions can help protect the people in our community who are most at risk.

Further to this the World Health Organisation (WHO) advice is to take a four-pronged approach to managing the virus:

  1. Prepare and be ready
  2. Detect, prevent and treat
  3. Reduce and suppress
  4. Innovate and improve.

What I have observed is that health systems in Australia have taken some steps for preparedness. For example, preparing hospitals for an influx of cases and setting up clinics and offering free COVID-19 testing.

The focus must be on reduce and suppress

The subtle message to Australians is that there is an expectation there will be an increase in COVID-19 cases. However, the critical message from WHO is ‘reduce and suppress.’ This must be the focus for Australia. We must contain the virus, regardless of the economic impact. Already, across the country, events are being cancelled and in Australia as of Monday 16 March non-essential mass gatherings are limited to less than 500 people. If only I was a cartoonist! I would draw a cartoon of a gathering of 500 people all practicing social distancing. How is it possible?

As of Tuesday 10 March, there were 18 cases of coronavirus in Queensland. The figure this morning as of 6.30 a.m. is 35 infected people. That is almost a 100% increase in a few days. Hence, my view is that more attention must be on ‘reduce and suppress’ to prevent the spread of the virus. If the virus is not contained, it will not take long before the number of cases increases exponentially. Four days ago, Dr Cathie Hull from Sydney’s Ryde Hospital, called on the government to take more extreme measures saying that mass quarantine should happen sooner not later. Dr Hull was criticised for her comments as the ‘experts’ said taking such a step was an overreaction. But is it?

Government minister tests positive to COVID-19

Late yesterday the Federal Minister for Home Affairs, Peter Dutton, was confirmed as infected with COVID-19. Mr Dutton recently returned from a trip to Washington DC. He had close contact with a number of people including Ivanka Trump and the US Attorney-General William Barr. Ms Trump has now self-isolated and is working from home. On Tuesday 10 March Mr Dutton attended a cabinet meeting, with the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison and others. Yesterday Mr Dutton attended the COAG meeting. All Premiers and Chief Ministers were at the meeting, including other invited guests.

Practice social distancing.

Government advice about self-isolation

There is still no clear evidence about how the virus spreads and right now there are limited measures in place to ‘prevent and reduce’ transmission. The advice from the Australian Government Department of Health, states ‘if you have been in close contact with a proven case of coronavirus, you must isolate yourself for 14 days from the date of last contact with the confirmed case.’ However, the Prime Minister is not following his own government’s advice and will not self-isolate.

The Prime Minister has made this decision due to a shift in advice from the deputy chief medical officer. This advice is that only people who had close contact with Minister Dutton in the preceding 24 hours before he became symptomatic need to self-isolate. Such a decision is creating more confusion for Australian citizens who are doing their best to follow the advice of the Australian Government.

What steps are we taking at our place?

When grocery shopping on Thursday my One & Only (O&O) and I were practicing social distancing. We were aware of the space between ourselves and others and moving along to avoid close contact. We know that the virus can be spread through droplets from a cough or sneeze so awareness about the space between ourselves and others was foremost in our mind. Also, we don’t know if someone is about to sneeze as we are standing side-by-side while filling up our plastic bag with tomatoes! We saw everyone as a potential person to give us the virus. Does that mean we are panicking?

Should we just keep calm and wash our hands? If so, given the current circumstances, I would like to see shopping centres and businesses have hand sanitizer available for customers. However, if they do this they will have to screw the sanitizer dispenser to the wall, or they will be stolen by a quiet and unassuming customer, who has a moment of panic!

In the meantime, while the government is pandering around the pandemic, I am taking my own measures to protect myself. Sorry to all my friends and family but there will be no lunches or dinner parties until further notice. Please do not invite me to your place as I will have to decline. If you intend turning up at my door, preferably text first.

However, if you do arrive at our place, for an essential purpose, then know that I will be practicing social distancing. It has nothing to do with your forgetfulness in showering earlier in the day. Thank you for saving water, although unintentionally, and thank you for saving me from contacting the coronavirus by not shaking my hand or kissing me on the cheek.

There is no need to panic. All we have to do is to keep calm, wash our hands, and a few other things.

See the Australian Government website for further information and resources.

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