Take the panic out of pandemic

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  Last updated April 1, 2020 at 11:07 am


Panic buying toilet paper is not necessary, but there are practical, realistic things you can be doing now to prepare for a local COVID-19 virus outbreak.

pandemic face mask

The mask might give you a false sense of security

Why This Matters: Separating good advice from misinformation will help beat an outbreak.

After Australia’s first coronavirus-related deaths, the small window of opportunity for Australia to avoid hitting the panic button is slowly slipping away.

And it has disaster response researcher Associate Professor Erin Smith from Edith Cowan University calling for calm as the world edges closer to pandemic status.

“While this is scary, it’s important to remember that the virus is only causing clinically serious illness in around five per cent of those it has infected, and the 1-2 per cent of people who have died from coronavirus have generally been the elderly with co-morbid illnesses,” Smith said.

Deeper: What we know (and don’t know) about the COVID-19 virus

“We have a unique window of opportunity at the moment to educate the public in order for them to remain alert and aware, but not alarmed.”

Infodemic of misinformation

With supplies of face masks running out around the globe and an infodemic of misinformation spreading in parallel to the disease, Smith says it’s important to get practical, realistic advice on what to do. Having a sensible plan also helps us feel a little bit more in control of the situation.

Her recommendations include:

  • Sensible shopping. It’s not about panic buying, but being smart with our shopping trolley. While building up a stock of certain items – such as medical prescriptions, non-perishable food items and bottled water – is sensible, a two-week supply of these items is sufficient for the time being. Your 80 rolls of toilet paper (why toilet paper?) is probably overkill.

toilet paper pandemic people

  • Hand washing. Get in the practice of routinely washing your hands with soap and water and have a back-up hand sanitiser for when hand-washing is not practical. When you’re washing your hands scrub them for at least 20 seconds – that’s the same amount of time as singing Happy Birthday twice. When you’re sick of singing happy birthday, there’s other alternatives:

But remember that hand sanitisers are not as effective for killing bugs like the coronavirus as manual handwashing with soap and water. If you are going to use hand sanitisers, make sure they’re at least 60% alcohol, and still clean your hands with soap and water.

  • Stop touching your face. You might not realise but we do it unconsciously up to 24 times an hour. This can prevent diseases like coronavirus that are spread by droplets lurking on our hands and then entering our bodies through our eyes, nose and mouth. This is also a big issue with using a facemask (among other reasons that it’s not needed) – the false sense of security means your could transfer virus to your mask by touching it with your hands.

  • Get the right information. Reputable sources like the World Health Organization (WHO) provide up-to-date and reliable information on the virus. They also have resources to help debunk some of the common myths that are circulating about coronavirus – like rubbing sesame oil over your body, gargling salt water or eating garlic. None of these things will protect you from the virus – but washing your hands and not touching your face will.

Other important tips are:

  • Be mask smart. Only use a mask if you’re sick, or dealing with someone infected with the virus. And if you use a mask, learn how to use one correctly so you don’t infect yourself (or others)

  • Sneeze properly. Cover your nose and mouth (into your elbow) when coughing or sneezing

  • Think about your movements. Keep distance from people if you’re sick. Stay home if you feel unwell. If you have a fever, cough and difficulty breathing, seek medical attention and call in advance. Follow the directions of your local health authority

Talk to your families

Smith says it’s important for Australian families to start having discussions around how to best prepare for a pandemic.

“It is wise to think ahead about potential scenarios, such as what to do if a parent or child became sick in the family.”

“People need to think through how they would cope if kindergartens, child care centres and schools are closed down to prevent community transmission of the disease.

“If one or both of the parents is a first responder or health professional, they may be a higher risk of becoming infected through their contact with coronavirus patients, and that’s also a discussion worth having.”

But the main thing is to not panic, and think logically about what action you can take.

And wash your hands (it’ll also help protect you against influenza).

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