Thursday, 5 March 2020
I know that many people in my community would be feeling concerned about the spread of coronavirus. That's only natural. This week we saw the first domestic infections of the virus in Australia and the first death. The virus has now infected people in more than 60 countries, and we expect infection numbers to grow rapidly before they decline. But in Australia we enjoy world-class facilities and world-class medics. We currently have state and federal governments who are taking expert advice, and we are well prepared for any possible outbreak of the COVID-19 virus, so there's no need to panic.
As concerned as you might be, there is some good news about the virus. We're still learning about this virus, but, unlike the flu, it seems that transmission to children is very difficult, and the few children who have been infected around the world have shown only mild symptoms. What's more, the majority of adults also show mild symptoms, and many have already recovered.
But the virus is a serious threat, and there are some things that we can all do to help prevent the spread of the virus through our communities to protect those who are most vulnerable to it, particularly older Australians. Most obviously, wash your hands regularly and thoroughly with antiseptic soap—the full 20 seconds, not just a quick rinse—which is really what we should all be doing during any flu season. If you've recently returned from a country with an outbreak, like China, South Korea, Italy or Iran, and if you experience cold-like symptoms, please isolate yourself and seek medical advice. The government has established a hotline: 1800022222. This hotline is free to call and is open 24/7. Even if you haven't returned from overseas and you experience cold-like symptoms, try to isolate yourself. If you can work from home, do so. To bosses, I ask you to consider staff flexibility. To all of us, I suggest that we plan to check in with others in our community, by phone or internet if appropriate, especially elderly and otherwise vulnerable members of our community. Let's look after each other. There is no need for panic buys. We have seen runs on antiseptic hand gels and toilet paper. There is no need for this. If you have medical prescriptions, go and fill them out, but really there is no need to stockpile weeks of groceries and medicine. There is no need to panic.
Here is something else that we can do: we can refrain from sharing conspiracy theories. It's understandable that there is community concern, but this shouldn't be accelerated by the sharing of fake news. The Victorian Department of Health and Human Services is regularly issuing updates, and I recommend their website. The Chief Medical Officer, who is frequently advising the government, is also giving public updates. There are dependable news sources you can turn to for information. As you wash your hands, think of your consumption and sharing of information as an issue of hygiene. Together, we will all get through this. With courtesy, common sense and a world-class healthcare system. As the WHO has recently stated, we are not only confronting a viral pandemic, we are also confronting an infodemic, so think about the information you are sharing about the threat.