14 March 2020

Common sense about coronavirus: what you need to know

| Michael Weaver
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Hand washing

Are your fears about the coronavirus well-founded? Photo: File.

In Canberra on Friday (13 March), hundreds of people lined up to wait for a supermarket to open. For weeks, supermarket shelves have been devoid of toilet paper.

Amidst the heightened level of fear in the ACT community about coronavirus, what are the things about the COVID-19 virus that you need to know?

What happens if you self-isolate? How do you prevent the virus from spreading? Should you wear a mask in public?

The ACT’s Chief Health Officer, Dr Kerryn Coleman, this week reassured people that there is no need for the community to panic over one case of COVID-19 diagnosed in the ACT.

“As this is the first case of COVID-19 in the community, I can absolutely understand that there is a heightened level of anxiety in the community, but now is the time for us to remain calm and come together as a community and support each other,” Dr Coleman said on Thursday.

“The best ways for people to protect themselves is to stop the spread of germs in the community by practising good hand and general hygiene.”

A spokesperson for Australian GPs, Dr Wendy Burton, said people are only at risk of getting sick with COVID-19 if they have close contact with someone who already has the virus.

This includes contact in the 24 hours before they became sick, including 15 minutes or more of face-to-face contact or being in the same room with someone infected for more than two hours.

Here are our ten top tips to allay your fears about coronavirus:

  • You only need to be tested for the virus if you feel unwell and you have travelled recently and develop symptoms within 14 days of travelling. If you’re concerned you may have come into contact with someone who has COVID-19 and you develop symptoms of the disease, getting a test is recommended. As of Friday (13 March), 648 people had tested negative in the ACT.
  • Use your phone where possible. You can avoid clogging the health system by phoning the Coronavirus Health Information Line on 1800 020 080.
  • Prepare in advance. Think about what you would do if you need to stay home. This would mean no trips to the shops, school, university, work, park, library, movies, chemist or GP. Organise people who can leave items at your doorstep. Consider how you might make use of online shopping.
  • If you are unwell or find you need to self-isolate, put aside some foods that you like to eat, are nutritious and won’t go off. UHT milk, cereal, canned fruit and vegetables; for the freezer, some bread, meat, vegetables; for the medicine cabinet, some paracetamol and/or ibuprofen, sore throat gargle/lozenges, honey for cough, tissues and only enough toilet paper for a couple of weeks. Stockpiling toilet paper is not necessary.
  • NSW Health says COVID-19 is spread from someone infected to others through contaminated droplets spread by coughing or sneezing, or by contact with contaminated hands, surfaces or objects. Symptoms first appear after 5-6 days, although this may range from 2-14 days. For this reason, people who might have been in contact with a confirmed case are being asked to self-isolate for 14 days.
  • Fourteen days seems to be the longest time this virus can incubate before people become sick. If you are not sick by 14 days after exposure, as far as we know, you have not got this infection.
  • If you are healthy, you do not need to wear a mask. Masks are recommended for healthcare workers when they are assessing and testing patients. They are also used for people who are unwell with respiratory symptoms (e.g. coughing and sneezing) and people who are suspected or confirmed to have COVID-19.
  • Keep your house clean. Coronavirus can live, on average, 4-5 days, but has survived at room temperature for up to nine days. Use a detergent first (washing-up detergent and warm water) and follow with diluted bleach (one part bleach, seven parts water). A commercial spray is fine to use instead of the two-step process.
  • Keep your mind healthy by being occupied with meaningful or creative pursuits. It is okay to not be okay, but try not to panic. The Head to Health website has some great online mental health resources.
  • Try to limit how much you follow the news. Be aware there are some suggestions, particularly on social media, that may just be people’s personal opinions. Be mindful of the effect it can have upon children.

You can get further information from the ACT Health website on the coronavirus, or call the Coronavirus Health Information Line on 1800 020 080. There is up-to-date information from the Australian Department of Health website.

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Gee, thanks for giving people a new list of things to horde, genius.

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