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Hunter doctor warns coronavirus battle “has not been won yet”


Amid the ongoing pandemic, Newcastle Weekly spoke to Hunter General Practitioners Association Secretary, Dr Lee Fong, about the progress Australia has made in the fight against coronavirus and what the community should do to avoid another peak in cases.

Newcastle Weekly: Has Australia successfully flattened the curve?

Dr Lee Fong: Yes, we have “flattened the curve” at this point in time. This means that, for now, we have successfully slowed the spread of COVID-19 in our community, and prevented the health care system from being overwhelmed. For now!

NW: Do you agree with the NSW Government’s easing of restrictions?

Dr Fong: In that context, having “bought time” for our health care system to manage higher demand (for example: availability of face masks, ICU beds) and increase capacity to detect and manage outbreaks (for example: increased testing capacity and surge staffing of public health units), plus there is little in the way of known community transmission of COVID-19, it is reasonable to ease restrictions. 

There is a fine balance between trying to keep everyone physically safe, whilst also minimising damage to everyone from a shattered economy. Easing restrictions is about trying to find where that balance is.

NW: When people are out and about, what can they do to limit their risk of contracting the virus? If people do not respect social distancing, do you think another outbreak could occur?

Dr Fong: All it takes is for a few people to think “we’re all good now”, and we could be in big trouble. And then, just as we thought the restrictions were easing up, they will have to get ramped back up again – we really want to avoid that!

  • So – keeping in mind that spread of SARS-CoV-2/COVID-19 from people without any symptoms is possible, the safest thing to do is to just keep assuming everybody has it – including us!
  • So when we go out, we should still do all the same things we’ve been doing for many weeks now to both protect both ourselves and other people – practice good hygiene (frequently wash hands with soap and water for 20 seconds or with an alcohol-based hand rub; cover nose and mouth when coughing; sneeze into a tissue or your elbow; try to avoid touching your own face; avoid crowds/keep a 1.5m distance);
  • And, if we have even mild symptoms of an illness, we should also get tested, and stay at home until the test result comes back negative and the symptoms of illness have gone away (the test doesn’t catch every case!)

NW: Are face masks effective against coronavirus?

Dr Fong: The standard surgical masks that are most widely available are most useful for protecting other people from catching COVID-19 from the person wearing the mask – rather than the other way around. 

NW: Do you have anything else you would like to add?

Dr Fong: So far, we’ve done really well to avoid the terrible situations that other countries like Italy, Spain, UK, Russia, USA, and Brazil are in. Let’s keep it that way – because the battle has not been won yet!

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