Coronavirus: what you need to know

What is COVID-19?

COVID-19 is a new strain of coronavirus to be seen in humans. Other coronaviruses cause sicknesses from the common cold to SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome). COVID-19 affects the respiratory system much like the flu, and can cause more serious conditions like pneumonia. The virus first appeared in December 2019 in Wuhan, the capital city of China's Hubei province. The World Health Organisation (WHO) declared COVID-19 a global pandemic on 11 March 2020. An epidemic is a sudden unexpected increase in cases in an area, and a pandemic is an epidemic that has spread across many countries affecting many people.

The State of Victoria declared a State of Emergency on 16 March 2020. This instils never-before-used powers for health authorities and authorised officers under the Health and Wellbeing Act, and citizens who do not comply with health directives can be fined $20,000. The Federal government has banned all non-essential outdoor gatherings of more than 500 people and indoor gatherings of over 100 people. Australians are not to travel overseas unless in case of emergency. Citizens have been panic-buying toilet paper, cleaning products, and canned goods while the entertainment, hospitality, and food service industries have suffered dramatic economic hardship.

How is it different from the flu?

The outbreak of COVID-19 was unprecedented as, until now, it had never been contracted by humans. Therefore, there is not yet a vaccine or medication that has been developed to prevent or treat the virus. Furthermore, there is no existing data on COVID-19 to aid our understanding of the virus and how contagious and dangerous it really is.

What are the signs of infection, and how can I avoid it?

COVID-19 is most easily spread via direct or close contact with an infected person as well as touching contaminated surfaces and then your face. WHO has recommended the best way to avoid the spread of infection is to practice good hygiene (eg. regular hand-washing, covering while sneezing) and avoiding livestock and people with symptoms of respiratory illnesses.

All people returning to Australia from overseas must self-isolate for 14 days, and all citizens of the public are urged to practice social distancing. According to the Department of Health, social distancing includes reducing close contact (handshakes, hugs), staying indoors and avoiding crowds or gatherings of people, and avoiding all people if you are sick. Individuals can contract the virus and be contagious without showing any symptoms. All citizens should practice high levels of hygiene to protect our community's most vulnerable citizens: the elderly, disabled, and immunocompromised.

The symptoms of COVID-19 include fevers, shortness of breath, coughing, and a sore throat. People experiencing these symptoms are urged to call the coronavirus hotline on 1800 675 398.

Online resources:

Coronavirus (COVID-19) current situation and case numbers - Australian Government Department of Health

Coronavirus (COVID-19) health alert - Australian Government Department of Health

Coronavirus (COVID-19) advice for travellers - Australian Government Department of Health

Coronavirus - World Health Organisation (WHO)

Empty pasta shelves at Glenferrie Woolworths.

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