If someone in your life is refusing to practise social distancing…
Despite clear guidelines and the possible penalties, including an $11,000 fine or six months imprisonment, some Australians are not, right now, practising social distancing.
“Hang on. The Australian government hasn’t told everyone to stay home, so what’s the problem?”
Essentially, that’s what the government means by social distancing.
If you do not need to be out in public, then avoid it.
The best, most community-minded thing we can all do right now is stay at home. Here’s a brilliant simulation by The Washington Post on how social distancing will flatten the curve. Flattening the curve (reducing the number of people who get the virus all at once) prevents our health system from getting overwhelmed.
If hospitals reach capacity, that means there will not be enough ventilators to treat all patients, resulting in the death toll being far higher than it needs to be. Furthermore, if you have a heart attack, stroke, or are in a car accident, there might not be a hospital bed for you.
That’s why everyone keeps talking about flattening the curve.
“When I go outside I’m being safe…”
Let’s be clear.
The coronavirus is at least twice as contagious as the flu.
Preliminary research suggests that the virus sticks to common surfaces, according to the Harvard Medical School:
- For two to three days on plastic and stainless steel surfaces
- Up to 24 hours on cardboard
- Four hours on copper
- Up to three hours in the air as droplets
Consider that a wedding in NSW held on March 6 now has 37 confirmed cases on their guest list.
That gives us some sense of the risk.
“I’m not sick though!”
Early studies estimate that 17.9 per cent of those infected remain asymptomatic.
Therefore, you could be carrying the virus and not know.
The onset of symptoms can also take up to 14 days.
Imagine that tomorrow you wake up with a cough and test positive for the coronavirus. You will be asked what your movements were in the last week or so. How many people could you potentially have infected?
Did you go to the gym? To the supermarket? Did you have dinner with friends and visit your grandmother?
It may sound like an overreaction, but consider South Korea’s Patient 31.
By the time a 61-year-old woman tested positive for the coronavirus in South Korea, she had unwittingly spread the virus to thousands of people.
She attended church alongside more than one thousand people, twice, met a friend at a buffet lunch and took a taxi.
Her movements were responsible for a new epicentre in South Korea, and in early March it was reported that 63.5 per cent of all confirmed cases in the country were related to the church she attended.
“I’m young and healthy, so it’s not going to get me”
Firstly, that’s not true.People of all ages are being diagnosed: from an 8-month-old infant in South Australia to children, teenagers and people in middle-age. And a small proportion of those also develop serious symptoms.
“When this takes off, it’s young people who hit your intensive care units,” physician Dr Norman Swan told ABC’s Coronacast podcast, “and you’re making decisions between a 40-year-old and a 60-year-old.”
As of March 31, the highest number of cases in Australia were recorded among people aged 25 to 29.Healthy men and women in their 30s and 40s, with no pre-existing illnesses, have died of the virus.
Secondly, social distancing isn’t (just) about you. It’s about protecting the most vulnerable.
By being out in public, you might pass on the illness to someone elderly or immunosuppressed.
The death rate of confirmed cases of patients over the age of 80 is 14.8 per cent. Roughly one in six.
So, even if you’re young and healthy, you are putting lives at risk by living as though we’re not in the midst of a pandemic. Which, surely we can all agree, is a shitty thing to do.
“Hang on. Isn’t this just like the flu?”
This is not like the flu.
Conservative estimates suggest the coronavirus is 10 times more deadly than the flu. And that doesn’t take into consideration the knock-on effects from an overwhelmed health care system that can’t treat peripheral health problems, like the aforementioned heart attack or stroke.
We also have some immunity to influenza because it’s existed for so long. We have no immunity to the coronavirus, and it will take us, according to experts, 18 months or so to develop any.
There are more than 1.3 billion people in China. The entire country did not grind to a halt for the last two months for the flu.
In Italy, decisions have been made about whose lives are worth saving based on limited resources. According to reports, older patients have been left to die because there are not enough beds or medical personnel.
“You’re just trying to make me panic.”
We need to talk in facts and numbers, and right now, neither are particularly comforting.
This is not a media beat up or a conspiracy theory.
Mass panic is not productive. But we need to be vigilant because we are running out of time.
The decisions we make could be a matter of life or death.
Doctors and nurses are begging us to stay home because they are seeing firsthand the consequences of community transmission. What would be the motivation for medical professionals to exaggerate the current crisis?