This article was written before the news broke of a local coronavirus case being confirmed in Greater Shepparton
For Shepparton’s Alistair Hand, social distancing isn’t an inconvenience – it’s life or death.
Currently in remission after suffering from acute myeloid leukaemia, he is one of the many locals left vulnerable to COVID-19’s relentless spread.
Which is why he is urging the community to take the Australian Government’s social distancing recommendations seriously.
“I feel like a lot of people aren’t taking it seriously, probably because there haven’t been any confirmed cases in Shepparton yet,” he said.
“So most people won’t be stressing yet.”
The government has now restricted outdoor gatherings to 500 people at a time and indoor gatherings to just 100 in a bid to halt the spread of the virus.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced on Friday that for indoor gatherings of less than 100, four square metres should be provided per person.
Social distancing aims to slow the spread of coronavirus by reducing contact between people.
People who are sick are urged to stay more than 1.5 metres away from others and practice good hand, sneeze and cough hygiene, including disposing of tissues and using alcohol-based sanitiser.
Those at greatest risk of infection include people aged 65 years and over and people with impaired immune systems such as those who have cancer or HIV.
People with chronic medical conditions such as lung disease, heart disease, kidney disease, neurological conditions and diabetes are also vulnerable.
After undertaking four rounds of chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant following his leukaemia diagnosis in January 2016, the coronavirus is a real concern for Alistair.
“I’m at high risk because my immune system is a lot lower than the average human after all my treatment,” he said.
The virus is most likely to spread through direct close contact with a person while they are infectious or touching surfaces contaminated by a confirmed case.
Alistair is already taking steps to protect himself, and others, from the contagion.
“Ever since going through my cancer journey I’ve been more cautious with general hygiene, such as making sure I wash my hands a lot,” he said.
“I’ve only increased this since the coronavirus has been spreading so fast, especially when I’m in public toilets or after being around a lot of people.
“I’ve also been avoiding touching my own face as much as possible. The next step is I’ll probably start doing gym at home.”
COVID-19 is most likely to spread from person-to-person through direct, close contact with a person while they are infectious, or in the 24 hours before their symptoms appear.
Therefore, the more space there is between you and others, the harder it is for the virus to spread.
To reduce the spread of germs at home, locals are encouraged to avoid handshaking and kissing and regularly disinfect high-touch surfaces such as tables, doorknobs and kitchen benches.
People should also ensure their houses are ventilated by opening windows or adjusting air-conditioning.
Locals are also encouraged to visit shops sparingly, buy more goods and services online and consider whether outings are “sensible and necessary”.
When it comes to the workplace, top tips to reduce the spread of infection include staying home when sick, not shaking hands and holding meetings via video conferencing or over the phone.
Large meetings should be deferred, with essential meetings to be held outdoors if possible.
As for schools and childcare centres, children should not attend if sick, while school assemblies, queuing and activities that mix classes should be avoided.
Health authorities recommend a regular handwashing schedule among students and lessons outdoors where possible.
In public, locals should sanitise hands wherever possible, travel at quiet times to avoid crowds and use tap and pay rather than handling money.
“Just be sensible,” Alistair said.
“Wash your hands. If you feel like you’re getting sick, stay home and avoid touching other people or being in crowded places.
“Also leave some food and supplies for everyone else.”
For more information on social distancing, visit health.gov.au
If you suspect you may have COVID-19, call the dedicated hotline on 1800 675 398.
Please keep Triple Zero (000) for emergencies only.