opinion

Cancel everything: The advice we all need to be listening to today.

If there’s one thing that Australians are more afraid of than a highly contagious and potentially deadly virus, it’s looking to be overreacting.

One of the worst things you can be called, especially as a woman, is hysterical.

It means you’re out of touch with reality. You’re a fearmonger. You sit at home in your tin foil hat, trying to convince people in the depths of the internet that our politicians are actually lizards, ready to attack at anytime.

And no one wants to be that person.

The Media has, over too many decades, published countless hyperboles, overstated things we shouldn’t have, and buried stories we ought to have platformed. We’ve positioned ourselves as the truth tellers, proclaiming we’re keeping our governments to account, and too many times – we’ve failed to do either.

We are in the midst of a global pandemic, and people don’t trust the media anymore.

They don’t really trust governments either. Or experts. There are more voices than ever competing for the microphone and all we’re hearing are the muffled musings of voices that can’t agree.

It has been said, that people don’t hoard toilet paper, stocking enough to last them until Christmas, when they trust their government. Brawls in local supermarkets don’t happen when people feel in control. This behaviour is symptomatic of a population who has no idea – really – what they’re actually meant to do.

So, what do we know for sure?

We know that this is not business as usual.

Keep calm by all means. But do not carry on.

This is not “just like the flu” as people will continue to insist in the comment sections of every news article. This is, according to all available data, worse. WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on March 3, “While many people globally have built up immunity to seasonal flu strains, COVID-19 is a new virus to which no one has immunity. That means more people are susceptible to infection, and some will suffer severe disease.”

It means that, again, according to WHO, the fatality rate of the coronavirus is at least 23 times greater than the flu. It also means that we have vaccines and therapeutics for the seasonal flu, but so far have neither for the coronavirus.

But what we also know, which is leading to some frustration among experts in Australia, the United States, and many other countries around the world, is what slows down the spread.

As Yascha Mounk put it for The Atlantic, it’s time to “cancel everything”.

Cases of Covid-19, in its initial stages, appear to increase exponentially. We’ve seen this in China, Italy, Israel, South Korea and many more.

Wuhan in China went from having 444 confirmed cases of the coronavirus on the 23rd of January, to having 22,112 cases just 14 days later.

Since “extreme social distancing” was introduced, the number of new cases in Wuhan plateaued, and now continues to decrease every day.

This practise is now being adopted all over the world.

China, Turkey, France, Israel, Greece, Italy, Japan, Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Pakistan, Norway and Ireland, are among the countries who have closed all schools and universities to curb the spread of the coronavirus, with many urging people to work from home if possible.

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According to the latest research, a 25 per cent reduction in contact yields a 50 per cent reduction in infections.

Therefore, if it is possible, the most tangible advice on offer at this moment is to cancel everything.

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For some, this will not be an option. Health care workers, or people who work in aged care, do not have this luxury.

But some of us do.

If, this weekend, you can cancel a child’s birthday party, do it.

If you can avoid going to your local shopping centre, or catching public transport, then do it.

If you can steer clear of domestic or international travel, certainly in the next few weeks, then do it.

The cost of living our lives as though a pandemic is not upon us, is too high.

Even if we are lucky enough to be in perfectly good health, and do not belong to a high-risk group (the elderly, the chronically ill), to practise social distancing is to perform a social good.

Dr Kerry Chant, New South Wales’ chief health officer, says that the state is preparing for 20 per cent of the state’s eight million residents to fall ill with Covid-19.

This figure has the potential to be reduced, or at the very least significantly slowed, by social distancing.

On top of the potential loss of life, the other danger Covid-19 poses is overwhelming health care infrastructure, which isn’t designed to combat a pandemic of this scale.

What extreme social distancing does, is “flatten the curve”. By slowing the rate of infection, it means that it eases the burden on hospital facilities and health care workers, vastly improving the odds that a patient will survive.

In northern Italy, it has taken less than three weeks for the health care system to be completely overloaded. Hospitals are running out of beds. There are not enough ventilators.

According to Vox even greater than the coronavirus death toll could be the “collateral damage wrought by an overstretched health system”.

Pregnant women and babies. Cancer patients. People who require surgery.

Italy ought to serve as a warning to countries like the United States. The UK. Australia.

The purpose of such analysis is not to scare us. But to empower us.

If places around the world had practised extreme social distancing earlier, if they’d “overreacted” a month ago, their current situation would likely look very different.

Today, experts, governments and media appear to be aligned on what can be done to slow the coronavirus. For Australia, there might still be time.

Cancel your plans.

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