Introduction by Croakey: On the home front this week, RACGP president, Dr Harry Nespolon, has called for the implementation of a national pandemic plan in response to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) that includes GPs.
Nespolon said GPs had faced weeks of confusion around conflicting screening, testing and management guidelines, an unpredictable supply of protective equipment and increased demand from worried patients, who were often directed to them for advice.
As well as being national and consistent, he said, the plan needed to include GPs – Australia’s frontline service providers – in both the planning and the response.
His full comments can be found here.
Also of concern to health care workers is the news that neurosurgeon and director of Wuhan Wuchang Hospital, Liu Zhiming, has died after contracting COVID-19.
According to the Guardian, more than 1700 Chinese health workers have tested positive for the virus, and at least six have died.
The WHO yesterday, pointed to guidance on the Rights, Roles and Responsibilities Of Health Workers, Including Key Considerations For Occupational Safety And Health.
With reports that the Australian government is set to extend the COVID-19 travel restrictions for people arriving from Mainland China for another week, the post below looks further afield in our region, to what is happening in the Pacific Island Nations.
While no cases of COVID-19 have been reported in the Pacific, countries such as Samoa, Fiji and Tonga have introduced similar restrictions on entry to those in Australia, others have introduced stricter quarantine measures in an effort to prevent the onset of a an outbreak.
In the post below, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific, Dr Takeshi Kasai, writes that a big risk for Pacific Nations is that health care facilities could be quickly overwhelmed by cases, or act as amplification points if the virus takes hold.
Another issue is a universal one – the problem of misinformation and the need for timely, accurate advice.
To this effect, amid uncertainty and speculation about transmission, incubation periods and the epidemiology of COVID-19, it was great to see a clear and lucid presentation from Professor Raina Macintyre, NHMRC Principal Research Fellow and head of the Biosecurity Program at the Kirby Institute, online.
It’s the featured video at the bottom of the Croakey home page, and well worth a look.
Takeshi Kasai writes:
Our Region is at a critical juncture in the novel coronavirus (now known as COVID-19) outbreak. While the vast majority of cases are still in China, as of 14 February the virus has also been confirmed in 24 other countries on several continents.
There are also now cases of local transmission in several countries, increasing the risk of onward spread.
The latest information suggests that the virus may be more transmissible than early data indicated. This does not mean that COVID-19 will start spreading within the Pacific or elsewhere tomorrow, or perhaps ever. Of course, we hope that the virus will not reach Pacific countries and areas.
However, while countries such as China are still working hard to contain COVID-19, all countries of the world must prepare for the possibility of COVID-19 cases.
Anticipating the risks
In case of community transmission, there are two mains risks of importance to the Pacific. First, health care facilities could rapidly become overwhelmed, with even a relatively small number of COVID-19 cases. This means that health facilities may not be able to focus on treating the most vulnerable and severe cases.
Another major risk is that people with even mild symptoms may come to the health facilities, potentially amplifying the virus’ spread by infecting other patients.
These are situations we must anticipate and avoid.
Public health preparedness
While I am now advising other countries of our region to intensify preparedness for wider community transmission of the virus, I fully recognise the Pacific-specific challenges that multiple islands, vast distances and limited resources pose.
In this context, the intensive efforts developed by all governments of the Pacific to protect their people by focusing on increased surveillance and strengthening public health measures at the border are critically important. And as of today, no case has been confirmed in the Pacific.
This is great news – and of course, the objective should be to keep it that way. At the same time, we must also play our part in preparing for the possibility of cases in Pacific communities.
I understand why people are worried, as this is a new disease and there is much we still don’t know. The best thing we can do at this time is to be as prepared as possible.
Protection on the ground
In addition to measures governments are already taking, we all share a collective responsibility to act to protect ourselves, our communities, and the most vulnerable among us.
The best thing you can do to protect yourself and those around you from COVID-19, and other respiratory illnesses, is to wash your hands – frequently, and thoroughly. If you are coughing or sneezing, cover your nose and mouth with a tissue or with the fold of your elbow.
Keep your distance – at least 1 metre – from people who are unwell. If you are sick, stay at home so you don’t risk infecting others, and seek medical care if you have trouble breathing.
In addition to the COVID-19 outbreak, we are also fighting a global epidemic of misinformation, an “info-demic”. Please, don’t circulate rumours and misinformation online and to your friends and family.
When people have unconfirmed or inaccurate information, they can make decisions which harm themselves, and others. Don’t believe everything you read online, and stick to trusted sources, such as WHO and government authorities.
Strengthening preparedness for health emergencies and outbreaks has always been, and will continue to be, a priority for WHO in the Western Pacific Region.
WHO is working closely with partners, including Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, to support Pacific countries and areas in their COVID-19 preparedness and response efforts.
WHO and partners have established a joint incident management team, based in WHO’s office in Suva, Fiji, to support to Pacific Island countries and areas (PICs). DFAT has staff embedded the team, and has generously contributed $1 million AUD to WHO to support the Pacific response.
These funds will be used to procure urgently needed supplies of Personal Protective Equipment – such as masks and protective gowns – to address supply gaps in Pacific countries, to support deployment of technical advisors to provide training on infection prevention/control and case management, and to support risk communication with Pacific populations around COVID19 and measures that members of the public can take to reduce their own risk of infection.
The current outbreak is a test for all of us. It is time for us to work together and focus not only on what confronts us today, but plan for tomorrow, taking steps to protect every corner of the Pacific – in order to minimise the health, social and economic impacts of COVID-19, and keep people, families and islands safe.
*Dr Takeshi Kasai is WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific. On Twitter: @takeshi_kasai @WHOWPRO.