13 Mar 2020

Coronavirus: 'Be prepared, but don't panic'

7:52 pm on 13 March 2020

As health ministries around the world explain how to deal with coronavirus, myths and misinformation are spreading.

A man wearing a protection mask walks by the Spanish Steps at a deserted Piazza di Spagna in central Rome.

The Italian government has told all Italians to stay at home and avoid non-essential travel until 3 April in a bid to slow Europe's worst outbreak of coronavirus. Photo: AFP

Auckland University microbiologist Dr Siouxsie Wiles told RNZ Afternoons' Jessie Mulligan that people cannot dismiss coronavirus and it needs to be taken seriously.

She said anyone can catch it, it has a higher fatality rate than influenza and has worse affects on vulnerable and older people.

"We know that it has taken Italy, a country with a really good health system, from one case to its knees in three weeks and it's infectious."

But Dr Wiles said people shouldn't panic.

"What I want everyone to do is be prepared because the next year may be really different from anything else we've ever experienced, you know if we have to pull in all the measures that countries like China has in order to combat it if it comes here, then our lives are going to change quite dramatically and we need to be prepared for that."

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There are a number of myths and misinformation about coronavirus being spread through people's news feeds and social media.

One of the myths doing the rounds is that drinking water frequently will reduce infection, but Dr Wiles said there is no truth in that.

But something that does work is 'social distancing' or keeping a distance between people to stop the spread of the virus, she said.

Dr Siouxsie Wiles

Dr Siouxsie Wiles Photo: University of Auckland

That's despite reports on Facebook that 'social distancing' does not work.

Dr Wiles said several studies have just been published showing how successful social distancing is.

"It can take lots of different forms, so one form of social distancing is that we all just start maintaining a little bit further contact from each other, so things like we say goodbye to the hugs and the kisses and the hongi for a little bit and we do what are called elbow bumps, so you bump your elbows instead."

Social distancing also includes major things such as having to cancel big social events, Dr Wiles said.

Masks are fabulous when you have symptoms and you need to reduce the amount of spread of your droplets, Dr Wiles said.

But she warned masks tend not to work for those who have no symptoms and are not used to them.

"What happens with them is that they're much more likely to fiddle with their face and then if you do have virus on your fingers, you're more likely to introduce it."

She said masks can make people less cautious than they should be because they think they are more protected.

Dr Wiles said the virus is not weather dependant and will only disappear when everyone who has been infected has got through the cycle and no more people become infected.

She said a recent paper states that Covid-19 can remain on plastic and stainless steel surfaces for up to about three days and less than that for other types of surfaces.

It was important to wash your hands after touching anything that has been used by others, such as shopping trolleys, Dr Wiles said.

Dr Wiles said it was worth getting a cover for smartphones because it allows them to be cleaned more easily.

  • If you have symptoms of the coronavirus, call the NZ Covid-19 Healthline on 0800 358 5453 (+64 9 358 5453 for international SIMs)

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