AS the coronavirus pandemic spreads its way across Australia, we talked to health experts about the risk to regional communities and why people are panic buying their groceries.
RURAL Doctors Association of Australia president Dr John Hall has urged country communities to keep calm and advised that for "most rural Australians their risk of exposure at this stage of the outbreak is very low".
He welcomed the federal government's move to establish up to 100 "pop-up" clinics, as part of its $2.4 billion response to COVID-19, and said in the event of a local outbreak, regional hubs such as Bathurst, Dubbo or Orange, would be ideal locations for them.
"We welcome the government announcement of up to 100 pop-up clinics that will be deployed as needed around the country in response to coronavirus hotspots," Dr Hall said.
"Our understanding is that these fever clinics will be used to boost capacity for consultation and care when the local workforce is overwhelmed by the demand.
"Hopefully this will never happen in a regional or rural area, but if it does we are confident that the government will respond appropriately with the deployment of these in the areas as they are needed.
"In the case of regional hubs such as Bathurst, Dubbo or Orange, in the event of a local outbreak these would be ideal locations for the fever clinics as they have an existing GP workforce and close access to hospital care."
The medico offered advice to rural communities for dealing with COVID-19, with the number of confirmed cases in NSW reaching 267 on March 18.
"If you feel unwell and are coughing and sniffing, then the most likely outcome is that you just have a regular, but still unpleasant, cold or flu," Dr Hall said.
"The best way of reducing your exposure is to practise good hand hygiene and minimise contact.
"If you are well, you don't need to wear a surgical mask.
"In the community these are only helpful in preventing people who have coronavirus disease from spreading it to others.
"The overuse of masks will mean supplies are not there when they are genuinely needed."
The association president and principal of three practices said some sections of the population were more vulnerable.
The overuse of masks will mean supplies are not there when they are genuinely needed.Rural Doctors Association of Australia president Dr John Hall
"Sadly, those most at risk within the community of having severe complications or death caused by coronavirus are the elderly," Dr Hall said.
"This is the same with our regular seasonal flus.
"If you are unwell, or think you may have been in contact with a COVID-19 case, don't go and visit an aged care facility.
"This should be standard whether there is a coronavirus outbreak or not."
The other demographics most likely at risk of severe complications from coronavirus were people from remote Indigenous communities and those with underlying chronic disease, Dr Hall said.
"Limiting unnecessary travel in and out of remote communities is recommended," he said.
The doctor offered a dose of reassurance.
"So far, the exposure in rural areas is very low so even if you are sick, you probably don't have coronavirus," Dr Hall said.
"If you have been working on your farm and seen no one but your family and your livestock or tractor - you really probably don't have coronavirus."
If people had recently returned from at-risk countries and were feeling unwell, they should "stay at home, call [their] local rural GP and ask for advice".
Dr Hall said there was no treatment for coronavirus, but medical care could treat most of the symptoms.
"Antibiotics do not work on viruses," he said.
"The best advice is to just stay home, treat as you would a regular flu, and minimise your contact with others.
"Should your symptoms become serious, especially if you start to have difficulty breathing, call 000."
The association president also urged people to resist panic buying.
"Whatever happens, stockpiling dunny roll is unlikely to be of any real benefit in the case of an outbreak," he said.
Hold off on mass buying at shops
Health experts are asking residents not to stockpile items of necessity, as the number of coronavirus cases in NSW rises.
With toilet paper, hand sanitizer and now pasta, flour and meat all being purchased in mass quantities by shoppers, supermarkets have placed limits on the number of items that can be purchased by individuals in one transaction.
Pharmacists have also called for people not to stockpile medications, labeling the move as 'dangerous'.
Terrywhite Chemmart pharmacist Kaail Bohm said stockpiling medications was 'never a good idea.'
"The cost burden can be huge and if the GP changes the medication next week it's a waste.
"I know most pharmacies offer delivery services local so if people do need to self quarantine they will still have the ability to access there medication.
"If patients don't already leave scripts on file with their pharmacy of choice this might be a good option that way medication could be delivered if needed.
"Most pharmacies also have apps to help with this process," Mr Bohm said.
I understand that people are scared but turning to false or misleading social media content is not the answer.Royal Australian College of General Practitioners president Dr Harry Nespolon
The threat of coronavirus has been exaggerated to the point of panic buying across towns in the central west, including Bathurst, Orange and Dubbo.
Supermarket giants Coles, Woolworths and Aldi have sold out of toilet paper and tissues on a daily basis, while water, rice, pasta and even biscuits were also in short supply, depending on the supermarket.
The panic-buying has prompted Woolworths to open their stores exclusively for the elderly and disabled for a set period of time, allowing them to do their shopping without the mad rush around them.
While supermarket shelves are stripped bare, and residents are isolating themselves, they are also being warned to be wary of what they see on social media.
The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners has issued a warning for residents to be mindful of advice and updates on social media concerning COVID-19.
President Dr Harry Nespolon said that all social media users should be wary of what they are reading.
"The community is growing increasingly alarmed about the spread of COVID-19 and given the massive media exposure that is hardly surprising.
"I understand that people are scared but turning to false or misleading social media content is not the answer," he said.
What is COVID-19?
COVID-19 is a new strain of coronavirus that has not been previously identified in humans.
Human coronaviruses are spread from someone infected with COVID-19 virus to other close contacts with that person through contaminated droplets spread by coughing or sneezing, or by contact with contaminated hands, surfaces or objects.
The time between when a person is exposed to the virus and when symptoms first appear is typically five to six days, although may range from two to 14 days.
For this reason, people who might have been in contact with a confirmed case are being asked to self-isolate for 14 days.
Symptoms of COVID-19 can include: a fever, cough, runny nose and shortness of breath. In more severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia with severe acute respiratory distress.
Help prevent the spread:
- Clean your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds.
- Cover your nose and mouth when coughing and sneezing with tissue or a flexed elbow
- Avoid close contact with anyone with cold or flu-like symptoms.
- Practice cough etiquette (keep away from other people, cover coughs and sneezes with disposable tissues or clothing, and clean your hands.
- Stay home if you are feeling unwell
- Stay home if you have travelled overseas in the past 14 days
- If you have been overseas in the last 14 days (including transit), you should stay at home and isolate yourself for 14 days after you returned. You should watch out for symptoms.
For more information visit NSW Health online.
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