Northern Rivers communities are doing their best to adapt to daily changes and warnings from state and federal governments as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.
The key risk is that public health facilities will be overwhelmed, so Australians are being urged to ‘flatten the curve’ of infections so it doesn’t become exponential.
Globally, Europe is now the epicentre of the crisis, with 475 people dying in Italy in the last 24 hours, including young people. Almost 8,000 deaths have been recorded globally, with over 200,000 cases.
Schools have been closed in the UK, and the situation is worsening fast in the USA, exposing serious weaknesses in their national health system.
So far, Australia is in a much better situation, with 454 confirmed cases of COVID-19 at latest count, but there’s no room for complacency.
Close to home
There are now 267 confirmed COVID-19 cases in NSW, with three locally in the Northern Rivers. All of these cases were acquired overseas. There are no known cases of local community transmission so far.
As of yesterday there is a ban on all non-essential indoor gatherings of more than 100 people, and a limit of 500 people for outdoor gatherings. Exceptions at the moment include schools, jails, courts, parliaments, supermarkets and many work places, but if the experience of other countries are a guide, this will soon change.
COVID-19 clinics have been established at Lismore Base Hospital and Tweed Hospital for people with respiratory symptoms and fever who are at risk of the virus.
What to do
Because the virus can be transmitted before carriers show any symptoms, the key messages from health experts remain the same:
- wash your hands, thoroughly, and for longer than normal, with soap and water or hand sanitiser
- try to avoid touching your face after touching hard surfaces, money etc
- avoid physical contact and maintain social distancing with other people wherever possible (1.5 or two metres)
- if you need to sneeze or cough, do so into a clean tissue or your elbow
- if you have flu-like symptoms, isolate yourself and seek medical attention (if possible, talk to your doctor on the phone before turning up at a surgery or hospital)
The key symptoms to look out for are fever, cough (especially a dry cough), and shortness of breath. Those with compromised immune systems or existing breathing issues are at particular risk. Advice is to keep the throat moist but avoid ice.
Although symptoms may be trivial or non-existent in many cases, apparently healthy people can pass the virus on to others. Elderly people are at particular risk, but victims elsewhere have included young, previously healthy people as well.
The best of governments are not able to solve this problem on their own. Whole of community action is needed.
If you are aware of isolated people who might need help, check in with them using the phone or social media.
Australians are being urged in the strongest possible terms to avoid travel overseas, and most outward flights have been stopped. People returning from overseas need to self-isolate for 14 days.
Within Australia, public transport is continuing for now, but people are being urged to avoid all non-essential travel.
Many people who have that option are working from home.
Closures due to COVID-19
Major festivals around the region and beyond have been cancelled or postponed, there will be no big public ANZAC Day events this year, and major sporting and religious events are also facing unprecedented closures.
In our own region, libraries, galleries and theatres have closed. Some events and activities are still accessible online.
Many cafes and restaurants remain open but are struggling financially in the face of the crisis – consider takeaway and home delivery.
New rules came into force for visitors to nursing homes yesterday, as a result of the particular risk COVID-19 poses to the elderly. These include:
- visitors to answer a questionnaire about risks before entry
- one visitor at a time
- visitors to practice social distancing
- one hour maximum visits
Exceptions will be made on a case by case basis for people in palliative care.
Mental health impacts
Authorities are expecting to see a sharp spike in mental health impacts as many people face the double problem of illness and unemployment. We need to look out for each other more carefully than usual at this time.
Hoarding behaviour has led to unpleasant scenes at many shops, although supermarkets are reminding shoppers that there are no prospective food shortages.
While it’s a good idea to get a bit extra at this time, it’s also important to leave enough items on the shelves for those who really need them, whether it be toilet paper, bread or paracetamol.
The peak of COVID-19 cases appears to have passed in Wuhan, where the pandemic began, and work on vaccines is progressing in record time in a number of countries.
India is coping surprising well with the pandemic. Taiwan is having great success at slowing transmission with teams of people sanitising public surfaces (ATMs, door handles etc).
Even more miraculously, carbon emissions have finally slowed.
COVID-19 has proved that the human race is able to act fast and collectively, when it needs to. This will be vital as we face further challenges ahead.
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