NOTICE: The information on this page has been developed to improve access to information about COVID-19 that may be helpful to rural, remote and Indigenous communities. Our understanding of COVID-19 is constantly changing and users should regularly consult official government information services set out below. The information on this page is for information only and is not medical advice. If you need general advice on COVID-19 call HealthDirect on 1800 022 222 or visit https://www.healthdirect.gov.au. If you need medical advice talk to your local GP or hospital.
COVID-19 Official Sites
What is Coronavirus (COVID-19)
Coronavirus (COVID-19) is a respiratory illness caused by a new virus. Symptoms range from a mild cough to pneumonia (a serious lung condition that can affect your breathing). Some people recover easily, others may get very sick very quickly. There is now evidence that it spreads from person to person and that the rate of infection is higher than the seasonal flu.
We also know from our experience dealing with many epidemics in the past that good hygiene and social distancing are very effective at reducing the spread of the disease.
A coronaviruses is from the same family of viruses that cause the common cold as well as more serious diseases such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS). This new coronavirus first appeared in China and the disease caused by the virus is named COVID-19.
Like similar coronaviruses, people who are infected don't always show any symptoms in its early stages. This makes this virus particularly concerning because a person can innocently infect others without knowing they have the virus. This is why good community prevention activities are so important.
COVID-19 is most likely to spread from person-to-person through:
direct close contact with an infectious person, or in the 24 hours before their symptoms appeared
close contact with an infected person who coughs or sneezes
touching objects or surfaces (such as door handles, tables, shopping trolleys) contaminated from a cough or sneeze from an infected person, and then touching your mouth or face
Symptoms are similar to other colds and flus and include:
Some people who are infected may not get sick at all, some will get mild symptoms from which they will recover easily, and others may become very ill. Of those that become very ill, a small proportion will die.
In Australia, the people most at risk of getting the virus are those who have been in close contact with someone who has a confirmed case of COVID-19
Based on what we know about coronaviruses to date, the people most at risk of becoming seriously ill are:
people with compromised immune systems (such as people who have cancer)
elderly people (for people aged over 60 years, increasing progressively for people over 80 years)
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples (as they have higher rates of chronic illness)
people with chronic medical conditions (diabetes, heart disease, COPD)
people in group residential settings such as aged care facilities (both because of age, generally poorer health and close proximity to others)
people in prisons or immigration detention
very young children and babies
At this stage the risk to children and babies, and the role children play in the transmission of COVID-19, is not clear. However, there has so far been a low rate of confirmed COVID-19 cases among children, relative to the broader population.
(Adapted from the Commonwealth Government's What you need to know about Coronavirus (COVID-19).
What is a global pandemic and have we had them before?
A pandemic is declared by the World Health Organization when an infectious disease spreads to an entire country or the whole world. An epidemic is an outbreak of a disease that spreads quickly and affects many individuals at the same time often in a specific location or locations. An outbreak occurs when there is a sudden increase in the number of cases of a disease that was not anticipated. An outbreak can occur in a community, geographical area or several countries.
In general, the words pandemic and epidemic are used to describe any problem that has grown out of control and where a disease is actively spreading.
It has been a long time since a global pandemic has affected wide sections of the community and many people do not have experience of them or how they are managed. In most cases, recent outbreaks of serious diseases were successfully contained (e.g. the Ebola Virus, SARS) through effective protective measures so we did not feel their effect.
The lack of experience of epidemics and pandemics however increases the general feeling of uncertainty and fear in the community.
But it is important to remember that pandemics are not new, and the world has experienced them many times before and will again in the future.
HIV/AIDS Pandemic (2005-2012)
Flu Pandemic (1968)
Flu Pandemic (1956-1958)
Flu Pandemic (1918)
Cholera Pandemic (1910-1911)
Flu Pandemic (1889-1890)
The Cholera Pandemic (1852–1860)
The Black Death (1346-1353) – Bubonic Plague
Plague of Justinian (541-542) – Bubonic Plague
Antonine Plague (165 AD) – smallpox or measles
Each time there is an outbreak, epidemic or pandemic, we learn new things about how to control them better to reduce their spread in our communities. We cannot guarantee that there will not be a COVID-19 outbreak in a rural or remote community, but we do know what to do to reduce the spread and protect our local communities and economies.
What is the risk of COVID-19 for rural, remote & Indigenous communities?
The distance of rural and remote communities from major cities may assist in reducing the overall risk of the spread of COVID-19 into our communities. However, this does not mean that rural and remote communities should be complacent.
People who live in rural, remote and Indigenous communities are generally older, and are more likely to have one or more pre-existing condition such as heart disease, diabetes or respiratory disease, that will increase their risk of serious illness or death if they contract the virus. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians also have a high risk because many have existing chronic medical conditions.
We know from the the most current data on COVID-19 cases that older people (>60 years), and people with existing chronic diseases (such as heart disease, respiratory illness etc), are more likely to have serious complications or die as a result of COVID-19 infection.
This increases the risk to rural, remote and Indigenous communities if COVID-19 spreads into our communities. It is why every rural and remote town needs to take serious steps now, consistent with national advice, to reduce the risk and guide their communities on how to slow transmission of the disease if it appear in your town.
How could COVID-19 enter a rural, remote or Indigenous community?
COVID-19 could enter a rural, remote or Indigenous community in a number of ways. For example:
a resident is exposed to COVID-19 when travelling overseas or to an area where there is an outbreak and returns home;
a family member or friends pays a visit who has COVID-19 but doesn't realise it;
a visitor to a rural town, such as a tourist, business person or transport worker, who has come into contact with a person with COVID-19 on their travels exposes a person in the community to the infection.
If the disease enters a small town it could have a serious impact on people who are at high risk such as older residents, people with chronic diseases and ATSI residents.
What can rural and remote towns do to reduce the risk of COVID-19?
The key to reducing the risk of the COVID-19 virus spreading in your community is by promoting tried and tested community protective measures.
The Federal Government has produced some helpful information on the COVID-19 virus and how individuals can contribute to reducing the spread of the virus.
Commonwealth Department of Health - https://www.health.gov.au/news/health-alerts/novel-coronavirus-2019-ncov-health-alert
How does prevention work?
There is no way to prevent every person infected with COVID-19 coming into your town. The best approach is to reduce the risk of COVID-19 spreading in your community, particularly amoung people who are at higher risk such as older people, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and people with pre-existing illnesses.
This is called 'flattening the curve'. When an infectious disease breaks out like COVID-19 the aim is to reduce the rate at which the disease is transmitted from one person to another so our local GPs, hospitals and health services are able to provide support to everyone who needs it. The World Health Organization estimates that COVID-19 is passed on to 2.5 people for every person infected with the disease, which is higher than the flu.
Reducing the rate of infection will reduce the risk of poor health outcomes, particularly for people who are older, ATSI people and people who have pre-existing conditions. The graph below illustrates how infection rate can be reduced with good measures to protect the population.
Flattening the Curve
ACKNOWLEDGEMENT: This graphic was created by Spinoff and is available at https://thespinoff.co.nz/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/Covid-19-Transmission-graphic-01.gif