What you need to know about Novel coronavirus (COVID-19)
COVID-19 is the name for a new coronavirus that originated in Hubei Province, China in 2019. Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that cause respiratory infections. Previous examples include Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS)i.
The symptoms of COVID-19 can be similar to those of a cold or flu. They includei:
- Sore Throat
- Difficulty breathing
Some patients may have very mild symptoms and, as such, may not associate their symptoms with COVID-19.
The infection period varies between people and can be dependent on their previous health status. Mild symptoms in an otherwise healthy person may only last a few days whereas for an individual with existing health issues such as a respiratory condition, recovery could take weeks. Severe cases can be fatal.
COVID-19 is most likely spread from person to person contact. This includes:
- Direct close contact with a person who is infectious, or in the 24 hours before their symptoms appeared
- Close contact with a person who has a confirmed infection who coughs or sneezes
- Touching objects or surfaces such as door handles or tables, that are contaminated from a cough or sneeze from a person with COVID-19, and then touching your mouth or face.
There is currently limited data regarding how long the COVID-19 virus lives on a surface however initial studies have said 72 hours on hard surfaces like plastic and stainless steel and 24 hours on cardboard. This highlights the importance of good hygiene and cleaning practices being key actions to reducing the spread of COVID-19.
In Australia, those most at risk are those who have recently been in a high risk country or region (including mainland China, Iran, Italy or Korea) or who have been in close contact with someone who is a confirmed case of COVID-19.
Those most at risk of a serious infection from COVID-19 are:
- People with compromised immune systems, such as people with cancer
- The elderly
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people
- People with chronic medical conditions like:
- Heart disease.
- Lung disease.
- People in group residential settings.
- People in detention facilities.
Data regarding the risk for pregnant women is currently limited however the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists has issued the following informationii:
- A recent study of 19 pregnant women infected with COVID-19 did not demonstrate evidence of transmission of the virus to their foetus
- Pregnant women are encouraged to discuss their concerns and report any early symptoms to their obstetrician, GP or midwife
- Pregnant women are advised to avoid all non-essential overseas travel
- While it will not influence response to COVID-19 infection, everyone can reduce their risk of influenza overall by receiving their 2020 flu vaccination
- Information and advice to the general public applies equally to pregnant women
Available evidence suggests children are at a lower risk than adults of becoming sick with COVID-19. Children should follow the same hygiene precautions to stop the spread of COVID-19 such as cleaning hands with soap and water or alcohol-based hand sanitiser.
There is currently no treatment for COVID-19. Some medications may provide comfort and alleviate symptoms of COVID-19 however there is no medication proven to prevent or cure the disease.
There is no vaccine available for COVID-19 and the World Health Organisation has suggested it will not be available for another 18 months.
The best protection methods include practicing good hygiene and social distancing.
Good hygiene includesiii:
- Covering your cough or sneeze with your elbow or a tissue
- Disposing of tissues properly and promptly
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth
- Washing your hands regularly with soap and water, or alcohol-based hand sanitiser, especially before and after eating and after going to the toilet
- Cleaning and disinfecting surfaces
- If you are sick, avoid contact with others
Face masks are not required to be worn by any member of the public, unless they have symptoms of illness or are providing care for those who are ill. Face masks will not protect you from contracting COVID-19.
Having the flu and COVID-19 at the same time can make you very ill. It is therefore important to reduce risk of the flu, which can be done by receiving a flu vaccination. There are available from your local pharmacist with vaccines arriving into pharmacies now. Visit your pharmacy to make an appointment or book online now.
If a person develops any of the above symptoms within 14 days of arriving in Australia or within 14 days of last contact with a confirmed case, it is important they either:
- Call the COVID-19 Triage Hotline on 1800 020 080 OR;
- Present in person to a GP clinic, a dedicated respiratory clinic or to hospital emergency department. Before visiting the GP or the hospital, patients must phone ahead and inform them of their arrival.
A doctor is the best person to determine if a patient should be tested. Due to a global shortage of the test kits used to diagnose COVID-19, patients will only be tested if they meet certain criteria, including people whoiv:
- Have returned from overseas in the last 14 days and you have developed a respiratory illness with or without a fever
- Have been in close contact with a confirmed COVID-19 case in the last 14 days and also develop respiratory illness, with or without a fever
- Have severe community-acquired pneumonia and there is no clear cause
- Are a healthcare worker who works directly with patients and has a respiratory illness and a fever
Social distancing can help slow the spread of infectious diseases and is particularly important to reduce your risk of contracting COVID-19. While practicing social distancing, people can travel to work (including public transport). For non-essential activities outside the workplace or attendance at schools, universities and childcare, social distancing includes:
- Staying at home if you are unwell
- Avoiding large public gatherings and crowds if they are non-essential
- Avoiding small gatherings in enclosed spaces, for example family celebrations
- Attempting to keep a distance of 1.5 metres between yourself and other people where possible, for example when you are out and about in public place.
- Avoiding shaking hands, hugging, or kissing other people
- Avoiding visiting vulnerable people, such as those in aged care facilities or hospitals, infants, or people with compromised immune systems due to illness or medical treatment.
The government has implemented policies on organised gatherings including:
- Limiting organised gatherings to fewer than 500 people
- Limiting meetings or conferences for critical workforce members such as healthcare professionals and emergency services.
All Australians are encouraged to exercise personal responsibility for social distancing, however these restrictions do not currently apply to workplaces, schools, universities, shops, supermarkets, public transport or airports. If you are feeling unwell or have travelled overseas in the past 14 days, you should re-consider attending non-essential gatherings.
Some people may be asked to “self-isolate”. At the moment, this includes:
- Anyone who has a confirmed case of COVID-19 (self-isolate until advised by the Public Health Officer)
- Anyone who has arrived in Australia from overseas from midnight 15th March (self-isolate for 14 days)
- Anyone who has been in close contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19, including if the contact occurred within 24 hours prior to the onset of symptoms (self-isolate for 14 days from the date of close contact)
- Anyone who has been tested for COVID-19 and is awaiting results (self-isolate until advised by your doctor or testing facility)
Please note that the list above criteria are subject to change. Please visit https://www.health.gov.au/ for the most up-to-date information.
Self-isolating means you:
- Do not go to public places such as work, school, shopping centres, childcare or university
- Do not use public transport, taxis or ride-share services like Uber
- Ask someone to get food and other necessities for you and leave them at your front door
- Do not let visitors in — only people who usually live with you should be in your home
Those in self-isolation can still:
- Go outside on their property (eg. Backyards or balconies)
- Go for walks outside, staying 1.5m away from other people
- Use shared facilities like bathrooms and kitchens in shared homes. Ensure thorough cleaning of surfaces in these areas after each use.
You do not need to wear a mask in your home.
If you need medical attention, call ahead to your doctor and follow their instructions. They may ask you to wear a surgical mask (if you have one) to protect others if you do need to visit the doctor in person.
You should stay in touch by phone and on-line with your family and friends.
A number of media articles and stories have referred to control measures being put in place in order to ‘flatten the curve’. What this is referring to is staggering the rate of COVID-19 cases to ensure the hospital and healthcare system can better cope. If too many people become infected with the virus at one time, the health system resources available to triage, test, treat and support those people can quickly come overwhelmed. Protective measures might not necessarily reduce the number of people who become infected with COVID-19 overall, however it ensures the number of people infected at one time is limited to reduce the strain on resources and ultimately to try to reduce mortality rate.
The initial symptoms of COVID-19 and the flu are often very similar. They both cause fever and similar respiratory symptoms, which can range from mild to severe. See below for a comparative guide. While these are similar, it has been found the COVID-19 has resulted in more severe and critical cases than the flu.
The speed of transmission also differs between COVID-19 and the flu. The flu has a shorter incubation period (the time from infection to appearance of symptoms) of 2 days. Whereas COVID-19 has a longer incubation period, currently estimated to be between 2-14 days to develop symptoms according to the CDC. This means that the flu can spread faster the COVID-19.
Both viruses are transmitted the same way, by sneezing or coughing, or by contact with hands, surfaces or objectives that are contaminated by the virus. Therefore, it is important that you follow good hand hygiene, good respiratory etiquette and good household cleaning behaviors.
If you are identified by a local public health unit as being a close contact of a person with a confirmed case of COVID-19, you will be contacted with advice. You will be required to isolate yourself at home for 14 days after contact with the infected person. You should also monitor your health and report any symptoms.
A close contact is typically someone who has been face-to-face with the infected person for 15 minutes, or has been in a closed space for at least 2 hours with a person who was infectious.
If you came into contact with a confirmed COVID-19 case for less than the time required to be considered a ‘close contact’, you are at a much smaller risk of being infected however you should monitor your health for 14 days after you were last exposed to the infectious person. If symptoms develop, including a fever and/or respiratory signs, please call your doctor or the COVID-19 Triage Hotline on 1800 020 080vi.
If you have been in contact with a person identified as a close contact of another person with confirmed COVID-19 infection, you do not need to self-isolate (although the close contact themselves does) and do not need to take any other special precautions.
If a close contact develops symptoms and is confirmed as a COVID-19 case, public health authorities will determine who, if anyone, has been in close contact with them while they were infectious, and these people will be directed to self-isolate.
In order to ensure equitable access to essential medicines for all Australians, the Government has announced new limits on the purchase quantities of some medications across all Australian pharmacies.
Effective as of 19th March 2020, the new limits include:
- Certain essential prescription medications limited to 1 months’ supply at a time
- Certain over-the-counter medications limited to 1 unit per purchase
- Children’s paracetamol products will be placed behind the counter
- Your pharmacist may need to ask you additional questions when supplying behind-the-counter medications
If you have any questions about how this affects your medications, please ask your pharmacist.
For the most up to date advice and guidelines related to COVID-19, please visit:
World Health Organisation – www.who.int
Australian Government Department of Health – www.health.gov.au
ii The Royal Women’s Hospital.
v Meredith Health Group.