22 Mar 2020

Peter Doherty: 'People should act as though they have Covid-19'

From Sunday Morning, 10:04 am on 22 March 2020

We need to think like we’ve already got Covid-19 if we want to protect our most vulnerable. That’s the advice of Australian immunologist Professor Peter Doherty who wrote Pandemics: What Everyone Needs to Know.

“Everybody should be really conscious that this is a dangerous virus and that though it’s most serious for the elderly, and the elderly should really be isolating themselves as soon as there’s any hint of community spread, it also can be very severe in younger people and some people who are apparently healthy and normal and fit.

“Thinking in terms of, I’ve got it and I don’t want to spread it, is a good way to go ahead.”

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Prof Doherty’s research is mainly in the area of defence against viruses and he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine in 1996.

Doherty says Covid-19 is a crisis situation and a high risk to substantial numbers of the population.

If you’re a smoker, do your utmost to stop, he says.

“Because smoking up-regulates what we call the ACE receptor, which is the receptor that the virus actually uses. If you smoke, try and stop.”

The virus is really contagious and as Doherty puts it; “Really doesn’t respect anyone”.

It's something we have no prior immunity to.

Doherty says the death rates for elderly are ten times and above those for flu.

With limits now put on how many items you can buy at once, Doherty says elderly people who are most at-risk are now having to go to the store more often - putting them further at risk.

“Some really silly things have happened, we need to get our act together, each of us, and not indulge in that.”

This is not a bad flu, its much worse than that, he says.

“The main thing is, it’s a respiratory pathogen, the virus can survive a reasonable time on surfaces, we know cardboard it probably only survives a day or so at the most, so most packaging is fine, if you maybe put it aside for a day before you handle it a lot. Plastics though are a bit more dangerous, steel also a bit more dangerous.”