How to minimise the risk of getting coronavirus

Effective containment within Australia is now primarily dependant on health system response and community cooperation to limit spread, according to Australia’s key decision making committee for health emergencies. File picture

A FEW days ago one of the things the World Health Organization asked of the media was to make sure people have accurate information about the threat they face and how to protect themselves and others from novel coronavirus.

World Health Organisation (WHO) director general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said novel coronavirus COVID-19 was a serious disease.

“It is not deadly to most people, but it can kill,’’ he said.

“We’re all responsible for reducing our own risk of infection, and if we’re infected, for reducing our risk of infecting others.

“Countries have been planning for scenarios like this for decades – now is the time to act on those plans.”

He said the plans to fight COVID-19 started with leadership from the top, coordinating every part of government, not just the health ministry – security, diplomacy, finance, commerce, transport, trade, information and more – the whole government should be involved.

“Activate your emergency plans through that whole-government approach,’’ he said.

“Educate your public, so that people know what the symptoms are and know how to protect themselves and others.’’

He said countries should increase their testing capacity, get their hospitals ready and ensure essential supplies were available.

“Train your health workers to identify cases, provide careful and compassionate treatment, and protect themselves from infection,’’ he said.

“If countries act aggressively to find, isolate and treat cases, and to trace every contact, they can change the trajectory of this epidemic.’’

WHO advice on how to minimise the risk of getting CVID-19

WHO website information advises people to wash their hands frequently with soap and water or using an alcohol-based hand rub to kill any viruses that may be on their hands.

They also advise maintaining a distance of at least 1m away from anyone who is coughing or sneezing.

This is because when someone coughs or sneezes they spray small liquid droplets from their nose or mouth which may contain virus.

“If you are too close, you can breathe in the droplets, including the COVID-19 virus if the person coughing has the disease,’’ the advice says.

Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth as hands touch many surfaces including door handles, tables and keyboards and can pick up viruses.

“Once contaminated, hands can transfer the virus to your eyes, nose or mouth,” the advice says.

“From there, the virus can enter your body and make you sick.”

“This means covering your mouth and nose with your bent elbow or tissue when you cough or sneeze – then dispose of the used tissue immediately.

The reason for this is droplets spread virus.

“By following good respiratory hygiene you protect the people around you from viruses such as cold, flu and COVID-19,’’ the advice says.

Stay home if you feel unwell but if you have a fever, cough and difficulty breathing, seek medical attention and call in advance to allow your health care provider to quickly direct you to the right facility.

The protection measures for people who are in or have recently visited (past 14 days) areas where COVID-19 is spreading includes following the advice above and staying home if you begin to fell unwell, even with mild symptoms such as headache and slight runny nose, until you recover.

Avoiding contact with others and visits to medical facilities will allow these facilities to operate more effectively and help protect you and others from possible COVID-19 and other viruses,” the advice says.

“(But) if you develop fever, cough and difficulty breathing, seek medical advice promptly as this may be due to a respiratory infection or other serious condition.

“Call in advance and tell your provider of any recent travel or contact with travellers.

“Calling in advance will allow your health care provider to quickly direct you to the right health facility.

“This will also help to prevent possible spread of COVID-19 and other viruses.’’

The federal Department of Health website says COVID-19 symptoms can range from mild illness to pneumonia and that some people will recover easily and others may get very sick very quickly.

In a statement on March 6 the Prime Minister Scott Morrison and the Health Minister Greg Hunt said the federal government was conducting two forums with primary care providers and the aged care sector to identify areas for additional support.

“We understand that our doctors and aged care providers will be central to management of COVID-19,’’ the statement said.

“Our support will be aimed at protecting patients, particularly people with chronic conditions, and aged care residents – the groups most at risk of serious illness from the virus.’’

The federal Department of Health said the risk to children and babies and the role children played in the transmission of COVID-19 was not clear.

But there had so far been a low rate of confirmed COVID-19 cases among children relative to the broader population.

Australian Medical Association (WA) president Dr Andrew Miller and the WA Health Department’s chief health officer Dr Andrew Robertson took part in a webinar update on February 28.

Dr Miller said it was possible children were maybe spreading the virus around but not getting sick themselves.

On March 4 the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) recommended  the federal government direct primary focus toward domestic containment and preparedness for COVID-19, alongside maintaining enhanced border measures and travel restrictions at their current level for a further seven days.

“The AHPPC further considers that, given the information available about new cases reported within Australia in the past week, effective containment within Australia is now primarily dependant on health system response and community cooperation to limit spread,’’ AHPPC said.

The Australian Health Protection Principal Committee is the key decision making committee for health emergencies.

It includes all state and territory chief health officers and is chaired by the Australian chief medical officer.

WA has had three people test positive for COVID-19 including a woman in her 30s from Perth’s southern suburbs, who recently travelled from Iceland and the UK via Dubai.

She arrived back in Perth on Emirates flight EK420.

On March 5 Dr Robertson said the woman had self-isolated at home and was in a stable condition.

He said the department was working with the airline to contact trace passengers on the Emirates flight according to public health protocols.

Close contacts are considered to be those who were seated in the same row as, or in the two rows in front or two rows behind a confirmed COVID-19 case.

“There appear to have been minimal contacts back here in Perth as she took all the appropriate precautionary and self-quarantining measures,” he said.

Dr Robertson reminded Western Australians that there was still no local transmission of COVID-19 – all three cases have been people who contracted the illness overseas.

He said the WA Department of Health continued to work around the clock to minimise the risk of community spread and reassured people the risk of contracting COVID-19 in Western Australia was currently low.

“Unless you have travelled overseas and have flu-like symptoms such as cough and/or fever you do not need to seek medical attention,” he said.

“We are urging people to leave doctor and hospital appointments for those who really need them.”

The WA Department of Health said if you have travelled or transited through a country or region that is at higher risk of COVID-19 transmission (e.g. mainland China, Iran, the Republic of Korea or Italy) in the last 14 days OR you have been in close contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19 and you become unwell (with COVID-19 like symptoms), you must seek medical attention:

  • If you are very unwell (such as experiencing shortness of breath) and need urgent medical help call 000.
  • If you are attending a general practice or other medical centre, it is important to ring ahead of time to make your doctor aware of your symptoms and your travel history.
  • If you attend an emergency department at a hospital, please let staff know immediately on arrival of your symptoms and your travel history.

For general queries or for further advice on how to seek medical attention, phone the Coronavirus Health Information Line on 1800 020 080.

If a non-English speaker needs help, contact the Translating and Interpreting Service (external site) or phone 131 450.