Pandemic Information: Check the Sources and Stay Kind

Article written for the Courier Mail by A/Prof Gino Pecoraro

The Covid 19 pandemic continues to affect the lives of everyday Australians in ways we had not previously imagined. The world is different now. There are changes this virus has caused to not only our health but also our social, political and economic systems.

In times of national emergency such as these, it is generally best to have one trusted reliable and accurate source of information. This information service should provide timely and simple instructions to the general public on how to best protect themselves. Traditionally, this voice belongs to the government of the day, acting in the best interests of the nation and all of its inhabitants.  The messages put out are informed by healthcare experts including public health physicians, infectious disease physicians, biologists and emergency physicians as well as those government agencies whose job it is to plan for and deal with national and global emergencies.

These experts have been trained in disaster management and how best to calmly and efficiently deal with large numbers of casualties while maintaining order in our communities.

Some well-meaning doctors and other experts have taken to social media to try and promote alternative health messages, frequently critical of current planning and measures taken to control the virus. In this situation, my view is that we need ordered and calm responses. While a particular state or territory’s management of border control, self isolation or elective surgery management plan might not be to everyone’s liking, it is important that all members of society can get behind a common plan and work together to achieve the best outcome.

Now is not the time for political leaders to try to point score against each other or for journalists to look for “gotcha moments” when leaders are explaining economic and health rescue packages to minimise the devastation.

Moreover, the general public needs to be aware of what we can do to help each other during this time. Follow the advice with regards to physical distancing, make sure that hygiene measures like washing hands are undertaken regularly and stay at home unless absolutely necessary.

For people with symptoms that may be COVID-19 related, please ring ahead to your local doctor and let them know of your concerns rather than just turning up at the surgery and potentially infecting other people. The government has announced earlier this week the release of this year’s seasonal flu vaccine which will be available at no cost to seniors, pregnant women, indigenous Australians, children between the ages of six months and five years and those with medical risk. People in these categories should make sure they get the flu vaccine to decrease the possibility of infection which could further worsen the pandemic.

Now is not the time to ignore other chronic health conditions and making sure that disease plans for conditions like asthma, diabetes, high blood pressure and others are adhered to remains vitally important. Health screening tests may need to be delayed for a period of time but it is important to make sure that once the pandemic is controlled, the usual screens like smears, mammograms, bowel and diabetes tests aren’t forgotten.

Make a note in your phone to remind you to revisit these important health tests in say 3-6 months. Forgetting them could potentially be disastrous.

Finally, the pandemic provides an opportunity for us all to remember we are part of a community and we need to look after each other. Check on neighbours, offer to provide meals which can be left at the door for people undergoing self isolation, ring up an elderly person who may be feeling particularly afraid or alone and just be nice to each other.

Together we will all get through this and may just come out of it with a stronger sense of community.

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