News National The ‘P’ word: What can we do if COVID-19 becomes a pandemic?

The ‘P’ word: What can we do if COVID-19 becomes a pandemic?

What to do if the COVID-19 outbreak turns into a pandemic? To start with, don't panic – but do pay attention. Photo: Getty/TND
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No kissing. No handshakes. No hugs. Are we going to be using our elbows to greet each other in the future?

Maybe not yet here in Australia. But that – and far tighter restrictions – have become the norm for people living in areas where the coronavirus is spreading.

And it’s looking like we could be in for some forced changes to our way of life, too.

With the world on edge waiting to hear whether authorities are going to declare COVID-19 a global threat, the Australian government has confirmed it has activated its pandemic plan and is ready should the World Health Organisation make the call.

It would be one of the few times in history a pandemic has been declared. The most famous one was the Plague, also known as the Black Death, which killed one-third of the world’s population from 1347 to 1351.

Given our hygiene practices are far better than the times when rats swarmed the streets, it’s likely the actual threat won’t reach plague levels. But recent weeks have shown the virus spreads quickly – and can kill (more than 2700 people have already died).

Before hitting the panic button, know there are steps to take to avoid getting sick.

  • Confused about what a ‘pandemic’ is? Read this before you go on

The ‘P’ word

Professor Ben Cowie, an infectious disease specialist at the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity, said he recognised ‘pandemic’ was a “loaded and frightening word”, but urged people not to panic.

“People should not feel as if there is nothing they can do about it,” Professor Cowie said.

“Let’s take the necessary precautions now so if the coronavirus epidemic does turn into a pandemic then we can be ready.”

Australia’s chief medical officer Brendan Murphy said health authorities were one step ahead.

“Every part of the health system is now working on its plan so that we’re ready if things develop further in the future,” he told reporters on Tuesday.

If you need ongoing medications like the contraceptive pill, arrange extra supplies so you can stay away from busy pharmacies or GP clinics, Professor Cowie said.

Consider stocking up on items like pet food and flea treatments, and canned foods, University of Queensland virologist Professor Ian Mackay told the ABC.

However, he also stressed there was no need to hoard supplies – just buy a little bit extra when you shop and set it aside.

And most importantly, look after the elderly.


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