24 doctors’ warn against region’s deadly apathy to COVID-19
THE impending potential tsunami of coronavirus cases confronting the Gympie region has united local doctors in their deepening concern.
Despite tightening social distancing and isolation restrictions from a worried government, there are still not enough people taking the protocols seriously.
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Yesterday, almost 30 Gympie doctors sent a loud, urgent and unanimous message to the 50,000-odd young and old residents of the Gympie region: Stay. At. Home.
The Australian Medical Association yesterday called on the Prime Minister to waive all fines for anyone who does not vote for legitimate reasons in tomorrow's council election, "to minimise the risk of spreading COVID-19 and to ensure no further financial hardship occurs during these unprecedented times".
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Instead, there should be hefty fines given to anyone who breaches very strict virus procedures, he said.
In Gympie, Dr John Manton said "isolate, isolate, isolate".
"Stay at home so you do not transmit this to someone else. If you have to go out and do a shop, make sure it is a big one and then go straight home and stay there," he said.
"We are going to get infections in Queensland but we cannot allow emergency services to get overwhelmed. This is the biggest event of this century and the emergency measures are in place to try to save lives."
Dr Manton said doctors in Gympie were moving towards diagnosing patients online.
"I think most of the doctors in town have shifted to tele-conferencing in the last week to the vulnerable groups but are looking to expand that to everyone," he said.
The limited tests available means doctors are putting measures in place to battle the pandemic.
"For most practices in town, including ours, if you have a cough you do not cross our door and we are in full protective gear.
"As we know, if this was just another flu everyone would not be concerned, but this is different.
"In Spain, they turned an ice-skating rink into a morgue for the bodies.
"We are not there yet but Queensland Health is battening down the hatches to stop this from happening.
"If we do not isolate, stay at home and follow the social distancing rules then this could be the case here."
Dr Malika Loeckx said she was concerned with the community's mental health.
"I am concerned about the anxiety of people and what I would like the community to acknowledge is that we (doctors and medical professionals) are here for them and we will help them through anyway we can," she said.
"I do a bit of work outside of Gympie and I have been impressed with the patients. They are all following instructions and guidelines in place."
Dr Loeckx said it was important people continue following the rules put in place by medical experts.
"Wash your hands as much as 20 times a day for 20 seconds, stay at home as much as you can, social distance and follow the guidance," she said.
"Only go out for essential travel such as grocery shopping, this is what you can do to stop the spread but do not forget to look after each other which is important as well".
Dr Felix Wehrli said that people should start realising the risk of coronavirus.
"These rules will allow lower infection rates and allow the health system to cope with the number of people being infected," he said.
"Wash your hands up to three times more than usual because the more you can do the better.
"The most important message we can tell people is that people cannot expect to go to work if they have the flu.
"I understand there is the pressure of losing your job or business but this is a matter of life and death and not just money.
"I feel we could do better here in Gympie.
"There are too many people who have not fully understood how bad this situation could be.
"Anyone over 35 is at risk and there is no guarantee if you are healthy that you will not get sick or catch the virus," he said.
Dr Wehrli said he had a message for the healthy people of Gympie.
"As much as you can, stay at home. Only leave for specific purposes, if you need to go shopping then go in and go home," he said.
"Cancel any activity that involves physical contact. Use your social network to stay up to date with your family and friends and follow the advice of the Federal Government.
"Gympie is in a better place in comparison to people living in a major city because of the density of population.
"Generally, people are in houses, not apartments, which allows some separation.
"That is our biggest advantage and a better starting point as the lockdown comes because it lowers the chances of anyone contacting the virus by travel.
"It will take two weeks to see if these guidelines have been effective. They will only be effective if people are serious about their social distancing measures."
Dr Julie Blake said there were still not enough people in Gympie getting the message and if the curve of infection was to flatten, more people need to social distance and self-isolate.
"I still hear about people going to the shops when they have a bit of a chill - that is not on.
"People should be staying at home and only going out for the essentials such as grocery shopping and work," she said.
"If we want the curve to flatten then 80 per cent of people need to practice social distancing but we do not have that amount staying home".
The message from Dr Blake for healthy people who are not at risk is the same as what the Federal Government has said.
"Stay at home and wash your hands.
"They should be looking out for people who are vulnerable and asking what they can do for them while still only going out for the essentials themselves.
"We are trying to screen as many people as possible on phone calls, so no one with viral symptoms is coming to the practice so we can protect everyone," she said.
"If you have viral symptoms we gauge how risky they are before anyone has face to face contact otherwise medical professionals risk going into isolation, which is what we are starting to see now."
Dr Bryan Brink said the need to keep the distance and stop the spread was "common sense".
"Imagine having been tested positive, and you want to protect your own closest family, what would you do? Stay away or keep your distance," Dr Brink said.
He said most people were abiding by health advice, but others were "in denial, which is a natural reaction".
Dr Brink's practice is screening everyone, with more than 90 per cent of patients treated over the phone last week.
Dr Randal Davis said self-isolation and social distancing was "going to be the single most effective measure of controlling this pandemic until an approved vaccine is available".
He said people were adhering to the rules, but needed encouragement the tighter those rules became.
"Authorities are certainly worried about the ICU capacity being overwhelmed in the event of escalating cases and much is being done to ramp up workforce and equipment," Dr Davis said.
Dr Percy Arrazola said Gympie people were not doing enough to protect the community.
"It is very important that people maintain social distancing to prevent the spread of the virus, as we know it is transmitted through droplet secretions from the nose and mouth of infected patients," Dr Arrazola said.
"A single person can transmit the infection to three or four other persons and the chain of transmission can grow rapidly in the community."
He said 20 per cent of people who will be infected will need hospital admission and 10 percent of the admissions will need ICU care.
"According to Sunshine Coast University Hospital data, they have only 10 bedded pods in the ICU. This will not be enough if there is a patient surge."
He said the single most import message for the community is to stay at home.
"Think twice whether it is necessary to go out as it will save a life. Gympie is still not doing enough as I have seen a group of mature individuals playing footy near the Woodworks Museum yesterday. That is not acceptable."
He said his practice has already ramped up its telehealth consults to prevent people from going into the clinic unless necessary.
"We are triaging patients closely for any symptoms of COVID-19."
He said as an added precaution to sanitising stations and transparent barriers at the reception, they are asking patients to wait in their cars in the parking lot instead of the waiting room, before calling them into the doctor's rooms, to maintain social distancing.
Dr Mat Ranaweera at Gympie Clinic said the time to act on social distancing and self isolation was now.
"It is a real prospect that our healthcare system will be overwhelmed very soon if we do not act.
"People are going to die. Those people could be young and they could be the people you rely on to care for you," he said.
He also thinks that Gympie people are underestimating the diseases effect.
"I think there is complacency that this virus is like influenza - it is not - it is like a severe pneumonia.
"People also have conspiracy theories about the origins of the virus, but it does not change what is happening now and what will happen over the next few months.
"People who don't follow the isolation and self distancing guidelines need to remember that they are putting everyone at risk," he said.
Dr Ranaweera said as many as a quarter of the Gympie region's 60,000 people were expected to contract the virus - that's 15,000 - so Gympie Clinic has switched to utilise the telehealth system.
"We are hoping to make this available via our online booking system and potentially having telehealth services for weekends to take pressure off the emergency department," he said.
He said based on international figures around 2250 patients (15%) in the Gympie region will need oxygen and around 750 (5%) will need ventilation (in a medically induced coma and a tube inserted to help them breathe).
"Remember too, that people will need intensive care for other conditions. It will be a huge strain on specialised healthcare - I really do hope we can get through it.
"If we do something now, the number of cases will hopefully be less and the demand on our hospitals can be managed - like squeezing a balloon rather than popping it and letting all the air out," he said.
Dr Mary Pierpers said all runny noses regardless of the cause are contagious.
"At the moment some are COVID-19, some are other viruses and Australia doesn't have 26 million swabs to tell which runny nose is which, so no matter how trivial your cough is, stay at home and don't be an accidental and unintentional super spreader."
Dr Daryl Dodt said the community needed to understand the difference between essential and non-essential travel.
"Visiting your children and grandchildren in another town in not essential but if you have to go out and do grocery shopping that is essential," he said.
"This virus is spread by droplets which is why we have the 1.5m social distancing rule. Just stay at home and isolate. If you can go without doing it then it is not essential.
"This is a far greater threat than anything anyone has seen in their lifetime since two generations ago when there was the Spanish Flu.
"If we treat the coronavirus like a normal flu, medical facilities are not going to be able to cope and there will be a high death toll."
"We are not going to stop it but we just need to slow it down enough to allow the medical systems to cope.
"Just wash your hands, self-isolate, stay at home and if you have a fever, aches and pains or chills then contact your doctor on the phone and just stay away".