14 March 2020

Coronavirus cancellations cascade through ACT as government continues to call for calm

| Dominic Giannini
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ACT Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith

ACT Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith (left) and ACT Chief Health Officer, Dr Kerryn Coleman (right) have said Canberrans are still free to attend major events. Photo: Dominic Giannini.

A cascade of coronavirus cancellations has begun to impact the ACT, as organisations consider whether their gatherings constitute a health risk.

The Federal Government has recommended that any non-essential, organised gatherings of more than 500 people – excluding schools and public transport – be cancelled from Monday (16 March).

Canberra Airport has also cancelled their open day on April 5, all public events at the ANU have also been cancelled or postponed until further notice, as has the ACT Claycourt Tennis International.

Yarralumla’s Chinese Lantern Festival has been cancelled for the second time after initially being postponed in February, as has the North Ainslie Primary School fiesta, this year’s Cancer Council Relay For Life and the Indian community’s Vaishaki Mela in early April.

Marymead’s official opening has been postponed, the Canberra Craft Beer and Cider Festival has been cancelled and Basketball ACT will cancel all events this weekend.

Skyfire has postponed their event while the open day at Government House this Saturday (14 March) has been cancelled. Anthems Festival – which was set to take place at Commonwealth Park on 28 March – has also been cancelled over coronavirus fears.

The Canberra Symphony Orchestra has cancelled its performances at Llewellyn Hall next Wednesday and Thursday.

The Australian National University will cancel public events and social gatherings from Monday and will announce additional precautionary measures for classes, residential colleges and the broader work environment in coming days.

However the ACT Government maintains that Canberrans should not be concerned about attending events like the Raiders’ and Brumbies’ games this weekend as they call for calm.

They say that there is no proof of person to person transmission following an ACT man’s diagnosis with the virus and that the community needs to adopt “a proportionate risk-based approach”.

But as anxiety ripples through the community faster than COVID-19, a Canberra clinical psychologist says heightened concerns and rumours will only fuel our fears.

Repeated and constant updates about transmissions and deaths is only making community anxiety worse, clinical psychologist and Assistant Professor in Psychology at the University of Canberra, Dr Vivienne Lewis.

“The main reason people are so anxious is that they are seeing people are dying from it, there are a lot of unknown factors,” she told Region Media.

“Anxiety is often anticipation or being fearful of something that is unknown. It is quite common people become anxious over their health, about being sick or about dying. It is that lack of control, as in you do not seem to have a lot of control over this virus.

“When things are cancelled it creates that panic and it adds to the anxiety and anger people feel as well.”

Canberrans are also more susceptible to some of this panic and nervousness at the moment after coming off a summer of heightened anxiety over bushfires, the impact of hazardous air quality and cancelled holidays, Dr Lewis said.

“This is coming at a time where people are already stressed about how things have been over the last couple of months,” she said.

“It has a negative effect on people’s psychology but if [cancelling events] is something we have to do, then we have to do it.”

While the ACT Government is maintaining its position that events should proceed as usual this weekend with there being no person to person transmission in the ACT, President of the ACT Australian Medical Association, Dr Antonio Di Dio, says it does not hurt to be cautious.

“We support the government in that large public gatherings are potentially very dangerous and there is a very good chance in the near future that recommendations will be made to stop large public gatherings,” he told Region Media.

“All of those people need to be extremely cautious and make personal decisions about whether they attend large public gatherings or not. I am also very anxious personally about large public gatherings in general.”

By cancelling mass events to slow the spread of the virus, and therefore removing an influx of demand on the healthcare system, Australia could see a decrease in the severe cases, Dr Di Dio said.

“The speed at which the infection occurs is crucial,” he said.

“If the infection occurs over the period of several weeks, as opposed to over a few days, then you might get the same number of people infected by you may have far fewer severe infections.

“There may also be far fewer severe outcomes and a health system that is able to cope if the load is distributed over a slower period of time.”

Dr Di Dio says that while a lot is still unknown about the virus, it is better to be safe than sorry.

“I feel that as individuals we need to be extremely cautious and I do not see anything wrong with being over-cautious.”

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HiddenDragon7:53 pm 19 Mar 20

Some (very) historical perspective, from Daniel Defoe’s Journal of the Plague Year (1722) –

ORDERS Conceived and Published by the Lord Mayor and Aldermen of the City of London concerning the Infection of the Plague, 1665.

As soon as any man shall be found by this examiner, chirurgeon, or searcher to be sick of the plague, he shall the same night be sequestered in the same house

That the brewers and tippling-houses be looked unto for musty and unwholesome casks.

That no hogs, dogs, or cats, or tame pigeons, or conies, be suffered to be kept within any part of the city

That all plays, bear-baitings, games, singing of ballads, buckler-play, or such-like causes of assemblies of people be utterly prohibited, and the parties offending severely punished by every alderman in his ward.

That all public feasting, and particularly by the companies of this city, and dinners at taverns, ale-houses, and other places of common entertainment, be forborne till further order and allowance, and that the money thereby spared be preserved and employed for the benefit and relief of the poor visited with the infection.

That disorderly tippling in taverns, ale-houses, coffee-houses, and cellars be severely looked unto, as the common sin of this time and greatest occasion of dispersing the plague.

Previous generations were a lot tougher and more resilient than today. When incendiary bombs were dropping over London during WW2 the people dealt with it. Reissue the poster from that time ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’.

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