"Would love to make it to 21." The people we need to protect from the spread of COVID-19.

Feature Image: Twitter @gariamray/@cr0nicallycute/@cymaticbirds

Right now, Australia has a responsibility to protect the portion of our community most at risk of death from COVID-19.

Over the weekend, the deaths of two elderly women brought our country’s death toll from the fast moving virus to five, with more than 300 infected.

We’ve been told by the World Health Organisation, 80 per cent of those who contract the Novel coronavirus, will only experience mild symptoms.

But for the remaining 20 per cent, the consequences could be severe.

WATCH: Mamamia’s Claire Murphy breaks down your most asked questions about COVID-19. Post continues below. 

Video by Mamamia

According to data from China’s national health commission, the vast majority of deaths in their country – aka COVID-19 ground zero – were in people aged over 60, and 75 per cent of people who died had pre-existing health conditions.

Australian GP Dr Brad McKay says while our numbers are relatively small right now, the medical community is expecting “20 per cent of the Australian population will be infected by the virus in the first wave”.

“20 per cent will be moderately to severely unwell, and around one per cent of that will die,” he explained.


That equates to tens of thousands of Australians.

Dr McKay stresses that this is a virus that will now be in circulation forever.

“It will become like the flu,” he told Mamamia. “We’re imagining we’ll have further waves that will continue to reverberate around the world for decades, and centuries to come. That’s why we need a vaccine, and that’s why we need to ‘flatten the curve’ and spread the infections out over a longer period of time.”

In the meantime, as we wait for a cure, thousands are using the hashtag #HighRiskCovid19 on social media to share their stories, and have their voices heard.

Here are just some of the groups we need to be thinking about.

Our elderly population.

According to Dr McKay, the biggest risk group is people over the age of 65.

Of the five people who have died so far in Australia, all are in this category.

A 77-year-old woman in Brisbane on Friday, and a 90-year-old woman in Sydney on Saturday, are the most recent Australian COVID-19 fatalities.

Senior woman in wheelchair,rear view
The elderly are the highest risk group medical authorities are worried about. Image: Getty.

The main concern for elderly Australians is as follows:

"If kids are getting the coronavirus their body hasn't seen many coronaviruses in the past, or any at all, so they will get a mild reaction. But as they get older and older, and you see more coronaviruses over your life span - your immune system is able to identify coronavirus pretty rapidly and destroy it quickly. But in that process you end up getting an extreme immune reaction. This is what we're thinking is causing the reaction in the elderly population," Dr McKay told Mamamia.

"Their immune system is hyper vigilant. So it creates lots of inflammation which causes lots of fluid to build up in the lungs, which causes breathing problems," he explained.


Diabetics are one of the risk groups of COVID-19, and as Dr McKay explains it's because "it's easy for their sugars to go haywire".

"They're much more at risk of needing ventilation," he added, explaining that diabetics can find it harder to fight viral infections.

According to early data from the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, for the more than 44,000 confirmed cases in China as of February 11, deaths among patients who had diabetes were at 7 per cent, compared with 0.9 per cent for those without an underlying condition.

Diabetics in Australia have already started to express concern about the insulin supplies, but as Diabetes Australia explained on their website: "The Department of Health has advised Diabetes Australia that there are no current shortages or supply issues with insulin, diabetes medicines or NDSS products. People with diabetes are advised to order and obtain your diabetes medicines and supplies as usual. There is no need to stockpile".


However, the American Diabetes Association has recommended diabetics make sure they've got simple carbs at hand such as honey, jam, or jelly.

Anyone with a respiratory condition.

Right now, there is little data about how the Novel coronavirus is affecting people with conditions like asthma but due to the nature of the condition, they're being put on high alert.

One study of 140 cases showed no link to asthma. However, as the AAFA reports we know that asthma has worsened with other strains of coronavirus.

Dr McKay agrees, and says "we know people with lung disease, asthma, COPD and emphysema - they're all at risk".

"If your asthma is out of control and then you get coronavirus, you're at a high risk of something going wrong," he told Mamamia.

The community is being urged not to stockpile and create a 'domino effect' for already diminishing supplies. However, rural pharmacists in particular are reporting a growing shortage in stock.

Tasmanian pharmacist Ian Magill told The Guardian he was having difficulty ordering asthma preventers like Ventolin and Asmol, asthma relievers, broad-spectrum antibiotics, diabetic medications and blood pressure tablets.

Cancer patients.

Some types of chemotherapy damage the immune system, leaving people vulnerable to infections and therefore COVID-19.

For those in the community with blood cancers, their treatment requires the complete destruction of certain types of immune cells leaving them particularly vulnerable.


There is also concern among patients on active cancer treatment that their treatments could be delayed if they got COVID-19.

Right now in Italy, health professionals are having to make horrific decisions.

They don't have enough ventilators, ICU beds and ECMO machines (blood pumping machines), which is forcing them to have to pick "winners" or people with the greatest chance of survival to treat.

"I'm expecting to fully recover from my underlying health condition [breast cancer], but if I contract coronavirus at the height of this outbreak, can I be sure in a contest between myself and another patient I will hold the winning ticket?" wrote Mary Lloyd for the ABC on the weekend.

Those with degenerative and autoimmune conditions.

Cystic Fibrosis is one of the conditions high on the risk list.

As Dr McKay explained, anyone with cystic fibrosis has a lot of mucus on their lungs anyway, and they are very likely to develop viral infections.

"If they get a viral infection it will clog up their lungs," he explained, adding that they're particularly worried about older patients in their late 30s and 40s.

Graves' disease is an autoimmune disorder that causes hyperthyroidism, or overactive thyroid.

As Courtney explains, it's another disease that's makes someone more at risk from COVID-19 complications.


Lupus nephritis is an inflammation of the kidney, another autoimmune disease that leaves patients exposed and vulnerable.

These lives matter, and it is for them that those of us lucky enough to not have any underlying health issues need to practice social distancing and take COVID-19 seriously.

We need to flatten the curve for people like Yung, and Courtney, and Brooke.

Here are the other faces and health issues at the centre of #HighRiskCOVID-19.