Time to can the crowds and close the concerts

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  Last updated March 16, 2020 at 11:03 am


Australian experts explain it’s not as simple as banning all mass gatherings; different jurisdictions need the flexibility to respond to the evolving situation.

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Experts say it’s not as simple as suspending all mass gatherings. Credit: PeopleImages

Why This Matters: Stay calm and make smart decisions.

The Federal Government has announced it will recommend that mass gatherings of more than 500 people should be cancelled amid fears about the spread of coronavirus.

The cancellation does not extend to schools, universities or public transport.

Australia is following in the footsteps of a number of countries across the world by capping crowds. First, it was Wuhan in China. Then parts of South Korea and now France, Spain and all of Italy are shuttering aspects of daily life in an attempt to slow the spread of the virus.

So, what sort of events pose the biggest risk?

Infectious disease epidemiologist Dr Kathryn Snow from the University of Melbourne says at the moment, the concerns are about very large events which involve many international visitors, such as conferences and sporting events.

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“Many of these events are being cancelled currently around the world. There has now been at least one incident in the United States in which a few people with the virus at a conference passed it on to dozens of other people.”

“At the same time, many employers and individuals will have their own personal considerations and worries. Some people who are elderly or immuno-compromised may feel that they want to be extra careful and avoid crowded events or places, which is understandable,” she says.

Does that mean it is time to stop all mass gatherings?

Australian experts say it’s not as simple as banning all mass gatherings and that blanket policies and measures are not helpful in this situation.

“Each jurisdiction needs to have the flexibility and capacity to respond to an evolving situation – both when cases increase, as well as when they will decrease,” says Associate Professor Adam Kamradt-Scott from the University of Sydney.

“Further, they need the flexibility to be able to respond to situations where one area is affected while another is not.”

Also: Take the panic out of pandemic

He says Australia’s plans are nuanced, and permit variation to allow for a proportionate response to the threat we face.

“I understand there are a number of prominent medical staff calling for cancellation of all mass gatherings and events across the country. To be clear though, our nation has been preparing for the possibility of a pandemic for decades.”

Social distancing can help control the virus

Stopping mass gatherings is a type of ‘social distancing‘ measure that can help countries control the virus.

Other measures people can take include limiting travel and working from home where possible.

As for smaller gatherings and social events, experts agreed that vulnerable groups such as the elderly or immuno-compromised may want to be extra careful and avoid crowded events or places.

“Vulnerable people should keep their exposures down to small numbers, ” says Professor Robert Booy from the University of Sydney.

He also emphasised the importance of anyone with respiratory symptoms staying at home.

“Watch for cough, fever and shortness of breath. If you are concerned call health direct or your GP,” he said.

You can read the full AusSMC expert reaction here.

For the latest updates from the Australian Government Department of Health, visit their website.

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About the Author

Lyndal Byford
Lyndal is the Director of News and Partnerships at the Australian Science Media Centre. She spends her days turning complex science papers into tasty morsels to help news journalists cover science. Lyndal has an Honours Degree in Biotechnology from Flinders University and a Graduate Diploma in Science Communication from the Australian National University. She has spent the last 20 years communicating science in a range of settings including science museums, within the pharmaceutical industry and in media relations both here and in the UK. Lyndal regularly speaks about science on ABC Radio National and 2CC in Canberra. Lyndal was also a member of Inspiring Australia’s Science and the Media Expert working group for the Federal Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research.

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The Australian Science Media Centre (AusSMC) is an independent, not-for-profit service for the news media, giving journalists direct access to evidence-based science and expertise. We aim to better inform public debate on the major issues of the day by improving links between the media and the scientific community. The Centre works with journalists to help them cover science as well as identify the science angles in everyday news stories and works with the scientific community to help them interact more effectively with the media and ensure that their voices are heard on issues of national importance.

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