Coronavirus has broken containment. It’s exploding across the world, from Italy to Singapore, South Korea and Japan.
Now Australian medicos are sounding the alarm: we must prepare for this pandemic to strike home, Soon.
There’s been a profound shift in the Covid-19 epidemic.
Health officials are being taken by surprise. New cases of the virus are appearing seemingly everywhere. And not all of them can be traced back to travellers.
That means it’s already loose. Deep inside communities, such as Italy and Japan.
That means it’s entering a new phase.
Last week, the World Health Organisation (WHO) warned that the “window of opportunity” to contain the disease was narrowing.
But many epidemiologists fear that may have already passed.
It’s in hospitals. It’s in prisons. It’s on cruise ships.
It seems to be spread by carriers long before they show symptoms themselves.
And that makes the virus almost impossible to contain.
So how bad is it?
University of Queensland associate professor in virology Ian Mackay yesterday queried a disease risk-assessment think-tank. He wanted to know the most responsible way to discuss the worsening Covid-19 outbreak.
So, he asked risk communicators Lanard & Sandman about whether it was time to start using the ‘P word’.
“Yes,” came the blunt reply.
“It is past time to say ‘pandemic’.”
The virus is likely to soon be loose in our own country, cities and towns.
The Centres for Disease Control (CDC) announced on Saturday it was initiating preparations for a “likely” spread of Covid-19 in the United States.
“We are reviewing all of our pandemic preparedness materials and adapting them to COVID-19,” an official told media.
On Sunday, Victoria’s Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton responded in kind.
“It’s clear that with local transmission in several countries that a pandemic is very likely, if not inevitable,” his official Twitter account reads. “We are working rapidly on planning and surge with our health sector.”
A new assessment by the Imperial College London warns the outbreak is likely dramatically worse than believed:
“We estimated that about two-thirds of COVID-19 cases exported from mainland China have remained undetected worldwide, potentially resulting in multiple chains of as yet undetected human-to-human transmission outside mainland China.”
This is sending shockwaves through international health circles.
“In sum, many countries likely be dealing with a COVID epidemic soon,” responded the director of the Johns Hopkins Centre for Health Security in Baltimore, Tom Inglesby. “They should be quickly preparing to deal, to do best they can with medical care, work to blunt (its) overall impact, protect health care workers, keep health care system functioning safely and communicate clearly to the public.”
Risk group Lanard and Sandman say it’s important to point out that, while it looks like Covid-19 will go global, we don’t yet know how severe the disease is.
But, they add, the most “crucial (and overdue) risk communication task for the next few days” is to prepare the public for when the ‘keeping it out’ – containment – approach fails.
In other words, get ready for quarantine lockdowns.