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  • Writer's pictureTo Your Health Editorial Staff

Coronavirus hygiene fatigue? Here's your handwashing, social distancing and face mask reminder

After almost six months of dealing with the coronavirus pandemic, we asked our readers if they were still stringently keeping up hygiene measures.

These include thoroughly washing your hands, maintaining a 1.5-metre distance from others, not touching your face, and coughing into your elbow.

While many said they were continuing to follow the recommendations, others admitted letting their guard down in recent weeks.

So, do we all need to be as vigilant, even if we live in places where there are virtually no coronavirus cases?

The short answer is 'yes', with infectious disease experts recommending that all Australians continue the good habits they started back in March, because COVID-19 is so unpredictable.

"Coronavirus is going to be with us for at least another couple of years until we get an effective vaccine that is widely available and distributed," said Peter Collignon, professor of microbiology at the Australian National University.

    "If we think the virus isn't there, and go back to how we behaved in 2019, that's a recipe for it to spread rapidly."

Professor Collignon pointed to Auckland's recent outbreak as an example of how COVID-19 can come back when least expected.

Why have some of us dropped our guard?

The days when a major health crisis didn't cast a shadow over almost every aspect of our routine seem like half a lifetime ago.

In reality, it was less than a half a year ago — March 11 to be exact — when the World Health Organization officially declared coronavirus a pandemic.

Hands up if you've had enough already?

"It's understandable that people will get fatigued and won't be as disciplined about following the guidelines, especially if it hasn't directly affected them," said Robert Booy, from the National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance.

    "But this is not something hypothetical … it's a highly dangerous disease which is something very real."

Professor Booy praised the current national TV advertising campaign which highlights how easily coronavirus can be spread by younger people.

The ad shows a mother in her 50s seriously ill in hospital, after having played cards with family members in her home.

"It's a very effective campaign because it reminds us how easily asymptomatic children can pass on coronavirus to their parents and grandparents," Professor Booy said.

    "Once a person over 75 ends up in hospital with COVID-19, they have close on a 10 per cent chance of dying."

So, in case you're one of our readers who has returned to pre-pandemic habits, here's a refresher on some key steps to take to reduce your chances of catching the virus.

Social distancing is still our most effective weapon

Most of us have got into the habit of social distancing — maintaining a 1.5m distance between us and others — when we are out and about in our communities.

But we tend to drop our guard when we are around people whom we know, incorrectly thinking that strangers are more likely to pass on the virus.

Professor Collignon says the 1.5m rule is important to keep in mind at all times.

    "The vast majority of transmission of COVID-19 is via droplets, which will usually fall within a metre of an infected person," he said.

"Of course, it is most dangerous when you are indoors and close to someone who is coughing and sneezing."

Professor Booy added that social distancing had the added benefit of helping prevent the spread of other illnesses.

"It reduces the risk of transmission of other bacterial and respiratory infections, so that's a good thing for you, your family and your community."

Are you still singing Happy Birthday while washing your hands?

Hand sanitisers have become a familiar sight in most restaurants, offices and government buildings, and visitors aren't shy of using them — after all, they're free of charge.

But are some of us returning to our old ways of the rapid hand wash, especially if we live outside the hotspots of Victoria and New South Wales?

Professor Booy said a thorough scrubbing at the bathroom basin — 20 seconds or more is recommended — can help keep coronavirus at bay, no matter where we live.

"Handwashing is very effective and very important when we've touched a surface," he said.

"We have to avoid touching something on a surface, or door handle, and then touching our mouth or nose before washing our hands."

Wearing a mask is a good idea

Both professors recommend the use of face masks where there is community transmission, or where social distancing isn't possible.

Face masks are mandatory across all of Victoria, with Melbourne observing stage 4 restrictions, and regional areas of the state under stage 3.

"If there's any risk, wearing a mask is a very good idea, as a third protection," Professor Booy said.

"What's in the air can be prevented by social distancing and masks."

Don't sprint to crowded social gatherings like Usain Bolt

The world's fastest man tested positive for coronavirus in Jamaica this week, after celebrating his 34th birthday at a mask-free party.

"We saw him on TV, prancing at a party with lots of people, so what do you expect ... you're begging to get infected," Professor Booy said.

The medical experts say that attending social gatherings, especially those in crowded indoor settings, is an easy way to catch the virus.

    "Indoors is where the biggest transmission occurs, like workplaces, homes and rooms with poor ventilation," Professor Collignon said.

"Outdoors is better than indoors for social gatherings, so it is better to have an outdoor lunch with friends, rather than an indoor dinner where the risk is higher."

Don't 'soldier on' when you're not feeling well

Professor Collignon urged anyone with even the mildest cold-like symptoms to get a COVID test, rather than "soldier on".

    "A lot of our behaviour has been about soldiering on through minor illnesses, which is not a good practice, not a good idea at all during a pandemic," he said.

He said doctors were among the worst culprits when it came to working when sick.

A global survey earlier this year showed that around 20 per cent of medical professionals admitted to not staying home after feeling unwell.

Professor Collignon warned people not to look for miracle cures — mentioning hot water, bleach or hydroxychloroquine as examples — in an attempt to bypass a visit to their GP.

"People want a quick fix … they want to get back where they were a year ago," he said.

    "We all want hope, but when people get an idea that something might work, it can actually cause a lot of harm."

This is our new norm for another year at least

Even though some states and territories are getting some semblance of pre-pandemic life, our coronavirus hygiene measures could be here for the foreseeable future.

"Recent evidence shows that we can catch coronavirus for a second time, although probably less severely," Professor Booy said.

"There's still no accurate way of predicting through blood test, or physical examination, whether you're going to get coronavirus badly or not, apart from those chronic medical conditions, which makes things so unpredictable."

    Professor Collignon added: "A vaccine isn't likely to available until the middle or end of next year at the earliest, so we all just need to take these basic precautions."

Article from ABC News

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