Australia’s healthcare workers are preparing for the biggest fight they’ve ever had.
They are not armed with enough medical resources.
The enemy is invisible, swift and deadly.
In many countries, COVID-19 is already winning.
Dr Isabelle Osborne works in the emergency ward of a busy Sydney hospital, which on Monday had its first coronavirus death.
“I don’t think I’m a particularly anxious person in life, but for the last few weeks, I have been scared. Really scared,” Dr Osborne told The New Daily.
“I’ve read thousands of accounts from doctors in Italy, and I’ve seen the videos of their wards right now.
“I don’t want to go to work every day in an environment like that. But I’m probably going to have to soon.”
Australia is in a unique position – we know what is coming.
In the next week we can limit the curve, and stop the stress on our health system.
But it will take every single one of us for it to be successful.
“I know there’s a lot of confusion and differing information coming from the Prime Minister and the premiers at the moment but just keep it as simple as possible – just don’t leave your house,’’ Dr Osborne said.
“Just don’t leave it unless you absolutely have to.”
The personal protecting equipment (PPE) frontline staff have been given “isn’t good enough’’ but it’s all they’ve got, she said.
“Don’t make my colleagues and me go to work in the hell that Italy is in right now. We’re only a few precious weeks behind them. Please.”
Many hospitals around the country are preparing for staff treating non-COVID-19 patients to forgo their protective wear so those in the direct line of fire can stay safe.
In some hospitals around the country, members of the public have made this harder by stealing PPE.
“Hand sanitiser, gloves and masks are being stolen from my hospital,” said Sophie Hadden, who is an emergency nurse who works in Melbourne.
“We are having to lock it up, which defeats the purpose of PPE. If healthcare workers cannot perform effective hand hygiene, we risk spreading disease,” Ms Hadden said.
The reality is there just isn’t enough to go around, she said.
“If we cannot protect ourselves, we cannot protect you,” Ms Hadden said.
“Our stock is limited because production cannot keep up with demand, and current predictions estimate that we will run out.
“Wash your damn hands. Cough into your elbow. Stay home if you’re sick.”
Rachel Wilson, a neonatal intensive care nurse in Melbourne is also concerned there is not enough protective wear to go around if the pandemic gets out of control.
“Being a frontline healthcare worker at the moment is scary. We don’t know when or if this is going to explode” Ms Wilson said.
“I’m prepared to have to work in areas of the hospital that I’m not used to working in.”
Ms Wilson is a single mum and spent 14 days self-isolating before returning to her regular 12-hour shifts.
She needs to keep her small family safe – but she needs the public to help.
“Nurses are generally people who always put the needs of our patients before our own, and we are prepared to do what it takes when this pandemic takes hold,” Ms Wilson said.
Last week, there were widespread reports of panic-buying. And although supermarkets have taken measures to limit purchases, many shelves are still empty.
Buying up all the food actually exacerbates the problem, Ms Hadden said.
“From a purely pragmatic point of view, if vulnerable people are not able to access basic needs and services, they end up taking up a hospital bed,” she said.
“If your hoarding means the homeless person with mental health and addiction issues can’t get a tin of beans, they’ll be presenting to hospital earlier than you, a healthy person, and I will be giving them my care and attention.
“That means I may not have a bed for you.”
They all have one simple message: Stay at home, wash your hands frequently, don’t touch your face and support each other.
Those are the only things that will stop this.
“You don’t need that much toilet paper,” said New South Wales operating room nurse, Dan Gamble.
“This is serious. People are going to get sick, wash your hands and keep your distance.
“Don’t waste your PPE by wearing it in the car when you’re driving around on your own.”
He said a handy hint to stop you touching your face is to pretend it is covered in poo.
“Basically think of it like this: You are covered in poo – you can’t see the poo but it’s there.
“Every time you scratch that itch on your nose, swat that fly away, rub your temples, you are rubbing poo.
“Or in this case what could be COVID-19, all over your face, then breathing it in.”
Another Perth nurse, who did not want to be named, said patients who did not have COVID-19 symptoms, where possible, should stay away from hospital.
And if you are showing COVID-19 symptoms make sure your forewarn the medical staff.
“I need you from today to reduce coming to hospitals because I realise that’s another way to reduce community transmission of COVID-19,” she said.
“If you are also displaying symptoms of COVID-19, the health care staff need you to be honest about it before paramedics arrive or before you attend the Emergency Department.
“So we have a little bit more time to all be wearing personal protective equipment.
“We aren’t going to be able to get it perfect all the time.
“This is because we are limited in our resources of personal protective equipment and this is something we are currently trying to increase before community transmission cases increase.”