Get dressed and set goals: some routines not to break if coronavirus means you have to work from home



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Paula Brough, Griffith University

The precautions taken by some employers over the coronavirus mean you may find yourself working from home, some for the first time.

For example, Telstra says it wants any Australian-based office staff who can work from home to do so until the end of the month “at a minimum”. Many other employers are encouraging their staff to do the same.

You might feel this is a chance to stay in pyjamas all day, graze your way through the kitchen cupboards, and balance work tasks with online shopping and social media entries.




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But that won’t help the work get done, and it won’t do much for your sense of well-being. So here are some useful strategies to help if you want to be productive and still feel connected to your workplace over what might be a long working-from-home period.

Work as normal

First prepare yourself for a normal working day. Get up as normal, shower, dress for a casual work day, brush your hair, look as normally presentable as you usually do.

This will put you in your normal work mindset. It will also help if you’re suddenly included in a work meeting via Skype, Zoom, Facetime or Google Hangouts.

Next the physical environment. If you can, have a dedicated work space in a quiet room. It’s really preferable not to work in bed or in your bedroom.

Try to set a desk at home as you would at work.
Flickr/Nenad Stojkovic, CC BY

Set up some desk space similar to your office space at work, aiming to replicate your real work space will also help you achieve that work mindset. Plus you want a neutral background behind you for that work video call.

Use software and apps to help you stay connected, such as Slack, Jabber or other similar tools.

Your household data usage will likely increase as you become home-bound. Boost your Wi-fi facilities if you need to – refer to the support offered by your telecom company or internet provider. Some are already offering free upgrades to customers.

Have a plan

Book in daily work meetings via video hook-ups to stay connected and plan work tasks (now you’ll be glad you got out of your PJs!).

You’ll likely still have as much work to do, so plan for a full work day and prioritise your tasks as usual. Make sure you know what is expected of you. Discuss your work tasks with your supervisor as you normally would, it’s important both you and they are clear about your daily work tasks and due dates.

If part of a team, then make sure you know what each member is working on and when their work is due, and follow this up by calls and emails. As always, tell your supervisor of any problems you experience with completing your work.

And remember it’s preferable to discuss any problems via a phone or video call, rather than multiple emails, to better clarify the issues involved.




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It’s also important to look after your psychological health, during what could become long periods of isolation. Your may feel a bit overwhelmed by the directive to work from home, and also anxious about the broader coronavirus situation.

Social contact is very important. If you’re used to having lunch or coffee with colleagues, plan a quick social phone or video call to each other at lunchtime or after you have finished a few hours of work. It’s really important to stay connected with your colleagues as usual and to make sure all feel supported.

Get some fresh air. If you can, have a daily walk to your local shop, or at least get outside in your garden or balcony. Hang out some washing, walk the dog, water a plant, pick some fresh veggies, just take a break from your desk and move around.

Call family, friends and colleagues to see how they’re doing. Stay socially connected.

Use video technology to stay socially connected with your work colleagues.
Shutterstock/RossHelen

That work/life balance

It’s also important to think through your work-home boundaries. We’ve become used to blurring these boundaries a little, which is often beneficial, helping us to manage our multiple demands.

But when your home and work are located in the same place, the boundary setting needs some consideration.




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Be aware of home demands interfering with your work. Don’t procrastinate work tasks by first doing some housework. Set yourself a target to complete a work task and when you’ve finished it then spend ten minutes doing the tidying.

Equally, don’t let work take over your home life – just because work is always there doesn’t mean you have to be. Finish about the time you normally would.

Walk away from your desk. Engage with your family and friends. A period of psychological recovery from work is vital to make sure you feel rested and productive for working from home tomorrow.The Conversation

Paula Brough, Professor and Director, Social & Organisational Psychology Research Unit, Griffith University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Kids at home because of coronavirus? Here are 4 ways to keep them happy (without resorting to Netflix)



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Erin Mackenzie, Western Sydney University and Penny Van Bergen, Macquarie University

Some schools in Australia have moved online in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Schools in which students and staff have tested positive have temporarily shut over the past three weeks.

It’s important to note the government’s health advice is to keep schools open. But many parents are choosing to keep their kids home for various reasons.

If your child is home more than usual, their normal sense of routine has been disrupted and you may be wondering how to ensure they don’t go stir crazy.

Here are four ways to keep your kids happy if they’re home for long periods.

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1. Create a routine early

Children and teenagers thrive on routine. Some children may also experience anxiety about what is happening, and a new routine can help provide them with a sense of normalcy.

Plan a rough daily routine with times for different activities: school work, exercise, chores, creativity or free play, and time on digital devices.

Research also suggests children be involved in negotiating their routines as this helps support their empowerment. Older teenagers, who may be used to managing their affairs, may only require minor prompts to help with their routine.




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By creating a rough routine, you allow children to know what to expect. For example, you can show children the times you will be fully available to them and the times you will be working or busy.

Where schoolwork is offered online, and you find yourself in the role of teaching support, a routine also allows children to know when your teacher hat is on and when it comes off again.

2. Help them get exercise

Many sporting activities have been cancelled for this season. Yet exercise is critical for young people’s physical and mental health.

Think creatively about the activities children and teenagers can do when confined to the home. Opportunities for exercise might include a mini bootcamp in the backyard, an obstacle course through the house, physically active video games (dance, fitness, boxing), or kid-friendly dance and kids yoga classes on YouTube.

Primary-aged children love it when parents are involved in active play with them.
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Primary-aged children are likely to love having their parents involved in such activities, and research shows parent support for exercise and role modelling improves teenagers’ exercise participation.

3. Help them stay social

Social distancing measures reduce children’s capacity to socialise with friends. What this means may differ depending on the age of your child.

Deep emotional connections with friends are extremely important for teenagers and many will turn to social media to discuss their feelings. Yet recent research has shown teenagers who go online for emotional support may experience more worry. This may be because the quality of support they find there may be poor, and they may also experience uncertainty about some of the messages they encounter.

You can encourage teenagers to continue using social media to bond with friends and peers, but to take regular breaks and share their bigger worries with parents. If they hear any alarming information about COVID-19 from their friends, it’s important to remind them to verify the information by checking with reputable sources – like the Australian government’s website.




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While primary-age children’s friendships may be less emotionally intense than teenagers’, they may still miss the company of their friends during an extended period of isolation. Research with children isolated due to hospitalisation shows digital devices can be effective in providing a sense of connection with peers.

Supervised FaceTime, Zoom or Skype play-dates may also help provide this connection. And children can write letters or draw cards to then photograph and send digitally to friends and family.

4. Think beyond Netflix

Harnessing your child or teenager’s interests is key to engaging them in new activities, especially when Netflix or video games are the alternative.

Talk to your child about a new skill they would like to learn or a place they would like to visit, and investigate real and virtual possibilities for accessing these. There are endless opportunities to learn new skills together through online platforms such as YouTube.




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You could teach children games and skills you enjoy (such as cooking, chess, coding or science experiments). Virtual excursions promote interest and learning, and these are offered by many museums and zoos around the world.

You can teach children skills you enjoy.
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Children and teenagers are also strongly motivated by “achievable challenges”. Think creatively about challenges you could take together.

You could build a fort with every Lego block in the house, choose five board games for a family tournament or fix a neglected area of the garden.

Children’s ability to sustain and direct attention increases across time, so it is useful to plan these activities with your own child’s attention skills in mind. By rotating activities regularly, and aiming to complete one or two each day, it becomes easier over time to limit passive TV viewing.




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Children and teenagers stuck at home may become bored, experience increased conflict with family, or express stress and frustration in unhelpful ways. When you observe lapses in emotion control (such as temper tantrums), it is important to place these in context.

It can be useful to acknowledge how your child is feeling, and help them develop resilient emotional responses by problem-solving a path forward together.The Conversation

Erin Mackenzie, Lecturer in Education, Western Sydney University and Penny Van Bergen, Associate Professor in Educational Psychology and Associate Dean, Learning and Teaching, Macquarie University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Budget delayed until October, and new restrictions on indoor gatherings in latest coronavirus decisions


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The federal budget will be delayed until October 6, as the demands of dealing with the rapidly moving pandemic and the impossibility of forecasting have made the May timetable impossible.

State budgets will also be pushed back.

As the Morrison government prepares to announce on Sunday its second multi-billion package, which will dwarf last week’s $17.6 billion one, the national cabinet of federal and state leaders on Friday endorsed even tougher rules to limit numbers in non-essential indoor gatherings. Earlier this week these gatherings were limited to fewer than one hundred people.

Under the latest edict, in any given space, density must be kept to no more than one person per four square metres, so they can properly distanced from each other.

This would mean the permitted number in a 100 square metre room would be only 25 people.

Cinemas and theatres will reduce their densities, and some restaurants will be hit.

As the virus spreads, people are being advised to reconsider any unnecessary domestic travel. Scott Morrison said although air travel was considered low risk, “the issue is moving to different parts of the country and potentially large volumes of populations moving around the country”. He noted the conditions Tasmania had put on entry to the state, where non-essential travellers will have to self-isolate for a period, and said “other states may take those decisions for particular parts of their states, and that is entirely appropriate that they may consider doing that”.

With school holidays approaching, the national cabinet – which will meet each Tuesday and Friday – is considering further the travel question and more advice will be given.

Restrictions are being put on travel into and out of indigenous communities, where many residents have compromised health.

The recommendation remains for schools not to be closed.

Morrison announced $444.6 million for the aged care sector. This is in addition to the $100 million announced last week to support the aged care workforce. All aged care workers will be tested for the virus.

The national cabinet agreed measures will be put in place by the states for tenants, both commercial and residential, where there is hardship, for rent relief and protection.

“All Australians are going to be making sacrifices obviously, in the months ahead, and everyone does have that role to play, and that will include landlords … for people who are enduring real hardship,” Morrison said.

The national cabinet has asked for advice on dealing with localised outbreaks of COVID-19, which would require more severe restrictions in the area affected.

Morrison said the second economic package would focus on small and medium sized businesses, and sole traders, as well as giving the income support that would be needed by those most directly hit by the economic downturn caused by the coronavirus. The cabinet expenditure review committee went through the package late Friday.

Earlier, the banks announced loan relief for small business which needed assistance because of the impact of COVID-19.

Australian Banking Association CEO Anna Bligh said “banks are already reaching out to their customers to offer assistance and packages will start rolling out in full on Monday”.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said the banks’ decision “to defer payments by small businesses for six months will be a substantial boost to confidence and the spirit of millions of Australian small businesses. It’s a game changer.”

The government is also cutting red tape affecting lending to small business. “It’s critical that businesses not just have access to capital, but the speed at which that capital is delivered by the banks is as fast as possible,” Frydenberg said.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Social distancing can make you lonely. Here’s how to stay connected when you’re in lockdown


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Michelle H Lim, Swinburne University of Technology and Johanna Badcock, University of Western Australia

COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, is a challenge for everyone.

We know positive social support can improve our capacity to cope with stress. But right now we’re being asked to keep our distance from others to minimise the spread of the virus.

Many people are facing periods of enforced isolation if they are believed to have COVID-19 or have been in contact with someone who has.

Even those of us who appear to be healthy are being directed to practise social distancing, a range of strategies designed to slow the spread of a disease and protect vulnerable groups from becoming infected.

Among other things, this means when we’re around others, we shouldn’t get too close, and should avoid things like kissing and shaking hands.

This advice has seen the cancellation of large events of more than 500 people, while smaller groups and organisations have also moved to cancel events and regular activities. Many workplaces with the capacity to do so have asked their staff to work from home.




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While it’s crucial to slowing the spread of COVID-19, practising social distancing will result in fewer face-to-face social interactions, potentially increasing the risk of loneliness.

Humans are social beings

Social distancing and self-isolation will be a challenge for many people. This is because humans are innately social. From history to the modern day we’ve lived in groups – in villages, communities and family units.

While we know social isolation has a negative impact on health, we don’t really know much about what the effects of compulsory (and possibly prolonged) social isolation could be.

But we expect it could increase the risk of loneliness in the community. Loneliness is the feeling of being socially isolated.

If you have a smartphone, why not video call instead of just speaking on the phone.
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Recent reports have indicated loneliness is already a significant issue for Australians, including young people.

Loneliness and social isolation are associated with a similar increased risk of earlier death: 26% and 29% respectively compared to someone who is not lonely or socially isolated.




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People who are socially vulnerable, such as older people, are likely to struggle more through this uncertain period.

If older adults are forced to self-isolate, we don’t have contingency plans to help those who are lonely and/or have complex health problems.

While we can’t replace the value of face-to-face interactions, we need to be flexible and think creatively in these circumstances.

Can we equip older people with technology if they don’t already have access, or teach them how to use their devices if they are unsure? For those still living at home, can we engage a neighbour to check in on them? Can we show our support by finding the time to write letters, notes, or make phone calls?




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Supporting each other

Research shows a period of uncertainty and a lack of control in our daily lives can lead to increased anxiety.

In times like this, it’s essential we support one another and show compassion to those who need it. This is a shared experience that’s stressful for everyone – and we don’t know how long it’s going to go on for.

Fortunately, positive social support can improve our resilience for coping with stress. So use the phone and if you can, and gather a group of people to stay in touch with.

Older people may be more susceptible to feeling lonely if they’re forced to isolate.
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Further, positive social interactions – even remotely – can help reduce loneliness. Showing genuine interest in others, sharing positive news, and bringing up old memories can enhance our relationships.

Staying connected

Here are some tips to remain connected when you’re practising social distancing or in quarantine:

  1. think about how you can interact with others without putting your health (or theirs) at risk. Can you speak to your neighbours from over a fence or across balconies? We’ve seen this in Italy

  2. if you have access to it, use technology to stay in touch. If you have a smartphone, use the video capabilities (seeing someone’s facial expressions can help increase connection)

  3. check in with your friends, family, and neighbours regularly. Wherever you can, assist people in your life who may be more vulnerable (for example, those with no access to the internet or who cannot easily use the internet to shop online)

  4. spend the time connecting with the people you are living with. If you are in a lockdown situation, use this time to improve your existing relationships

  5. manage your stress levels. Exercise, meditate, and keep to a daily routine as much as you can

  6. it’s not just family and friends who require support, but others in your community. Showing kindness to others not only helps them but can also increase your sense of purpose and value, improving your own well-being.




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So get thinking, take considered action, and be creative to see how you can help to minimise not only the spread of COVID-19, but its social and psychological effects too.The Conversation

Michelle H Lim, Senior Lecturer and Clinical Psychologist, Swinburne University of Technology and Johanna Badcock, Adjunct Professor, School of Psychological Science, University of Western Australia

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Explainer: what are the laws mandating self-isolation and how will they be enforced?



isolate.

Caroline Henckels, Monash University and Maria O’Sullivan, Monash University

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has announced that anyone entering Australia must enter a 14-day self-quarantine period.

Some questions have been raised as to how this new mandate would be administered and enforced. The answer to these questions relies on a somewhat complex patchwork of state and federal laws and whether relevant federal and state government emergency powers have been activated.

At this time, the enforceability of the 14-day self-isolation rule is a matter for state and territory governments – although this might change.

What Commonwealth law says

The main federal law in this area is the Biosecurity Act 2015. As others have written, this law aims to manage biosecurity threats to human, animal and plant health, which include viruses such as COVID-19.

There are two types of powers under the act that could apply here:

The first is the “human biosecurity control orders” under chapter 2, part 3 of the act. Individuals who have symptoms of, or who have been exposed to, a disease or who have failed to follow any mandatory procedures on arrival into Australia could be placed on a control order.

A control order could, among other things, direct a person to stay home, or remain at a particular place. It is decided on an individual-by-individual basis following an assessment of whether the preconditions were met. As such, it cannot be placed on all arrivals.




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The second option under the law is the declaration of a “human biosecurity emergency”.

If such an emergency was declared, Health Minister Greg Hunt would have a range of options at his disposal to control the spread of disease. These include sweeping powers to direct people’s movements and require the closure of premises. People could be imprisoned for up to five years and/or fined up to approximately A$60,000 for failure to comply.

However, until such an emergency is declared, it will be up to the states and territories to implement the 14-day self-isolation rule under their own laws.

What state and territory laws say

There are many similarities in the ways in which state and territory authorities can order and enforce isolation measures. These come from public health laws and often depend on the declaration of a state of emergency.

Several states and territories have already declared a state of emergency in the current crisis. Victoria’s state of emergency declaration gives the state certain powers under its Public Health and Wellbeing Act 2008.

Victorian authorities may now detain or restrict the movement of people (for example, by requiring them to stay in their home), with a penalty of up to 120 penalty units (approximately $20,000).

Premier Daniel Andrews said authorities were hopeful fines would not needed as people understand compliance is in their best interest.




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In NSW, the government already has broad powers under the Public Health Act 2010 to take actions and give directions to deal with risks to health.

These powers would extend to enforcing self-isolation, provided the relevant areas of NSW were declared to be “public health risk areas”. A person who did not comply with such a direction would be liable for up to 100 penalty units (approximately $11,000), or imprisonment for up to six months.

The NSW government could, if necessary, declare an emergency under the State Emergency and Rescue Management Act, which would more clearly set out the powers that can be used, such as using force to enter premises.

While Premier Gladys Berejiklian also said it would be difficult to monitor every person to ensure compliance, the law will permit the 14-day self-isolation mandate to be enforced. She urged people to do the

right thing by the community, by their own family and by their circle.

The other states and territories have similar powers under states of emergency. All require a declaration of an emergency to activate these powers. The laws permit governments to order people to isolate themselves and detain or fine those who don’t comply.

Punishments vary from 50 penalty units in Tasmania and the ACT (approximately $8,000) to 400 units (approximately $60,000) in the Northern Territory.

States and territories have also issued bans on mass gatherings of more then 500 people, with hefty fines for corporations that don’t comply. There are exceptions for a number of institutions, such as schools and universities, workplaces, public transport, markets and courts.

Limits on powers to isolate and detain

As this is the first time these laws have been used in this context in Australia, how they will implemented and enforced is not yet clear.

Importantly, there are safeguards in these laws to ensure that coercive powers, such as the power to detain people, are used only when necessary.

Governments must regularly review the need for emergency powers. For example, in the ACT, a state of emergency lasts for up to five days, then must be reviewed every two days after that. Queensland recently amended its law to permit a state of emergency to be extended for up to 90 days.




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There are also a variety of controls on issuing orders and declarations in relation to individuals.

For instance, under Tasmanian law, the state director of health must review whether it is necessary for a person to be subject to an isolation or quarantine order every seven days. Under the Victorian act, authorities must review a decision to detain a person every 24 hours.

In some instances, state laws also give people the right to seek review in court.

When it comes to enforcement, the states have said they would use regular police checks to make sure people are complying with isolation orders.

Queensland police have reportedly already begun spot checks on people entering the country, while Victoria police is preparing for similar measures.

Some leaders, like Berejiklian, have urged people to “dob each other in” if isolation orders are being broken.

Like most leaders, she’s hoping people understand the importance of compliance, saying it is a matter of “life and death”.The Conversation

Caroline Henckels, Senior Lecturer, Monash University and Maria O’Sullivan, Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Law, and Deputy Director, Castan Centre for Human Rights Law, Monash University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Can I take the dog for a walk? Can I put the kids to bed? What you should and shouldn’t do if you’re in coronavirus self-isolation




Adam Kamradt-Scott, University of Sydney

Australians who have tested positive to COVID-19 have been advised to self-isolate at home.

The Australian government’s Health Direct website also advises people who have developed a fever or other respiratory symptoms to self-isolate.

You should also self-isolate if you’ve had contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, if you’ve returned from any overseas country or you’re waiting for test results. According to Health Direct: “even if you have a negative result, you should complete the whole 14 days of self-isolation.”

Most people who need to self-isolate will probably be advised to do so for 14 days.

But it’s not always clear what that means in practice, and how it’s different to social distancing.

Here’s what you need to know.




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I’ve tested positive for COVID-19, or am awaiting results. Can I take the dog for a walk?

The short answer is no. We want people in this situation – those who have tested positive to COVID-19 or are awaiting test results – to remain in their houses, preferably in the bedroom and avoid interacting beyond those four walls.

You should avoid interacting with delivery people.

Yes, you can go out to the garden, but if you must cough or sneeze, do so into your elbow and wash your hands.

The virus is not airborne – so simply breathing while in the garden is unlikely to, for example, spread it to your neighbour’s garden.

But if people in this category cough and sneeze on their their hand and then touch a door handle or a mug, it could spread the virus to the next person to touch that handle or mug. So you should be washing your hands often, with soap, to reduce the risk of passing it around to other household members.

Wash your hands often, with soap.

People who have tested positive to COVID-19, or are awaiting test results, should not be putting the kids to bed.

They should isolate themselves in a bedroom. If they go into a communal space they should wear face masks, avoid contact with others, and wash hands regularly. They do not need to wear their face masks while they are in their bedroom by themselves – but their partner should sleep in a different room during the quarantine period.

If someone walks into the bedroom by accident or opens the door to deliver a tray of food, they are not at risk of being exposed to the virus. But when taking plates and utensils away, the person who puts it in the dishwasher or washes it up afterwards (either the unwell person or another household member) needs to ensure they immediately wash their hands with soap and water afterwards and clean the surfaces (like the tray) with disinfectant.

You can see more recommendations on the Australian government’s Health Direct website here.

If an infected household member is continuing to move around the house, then cleaning surfaces is important – particularly door handles.




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In short, people should avoid contact with any person in their household who has tested positive for COVID-19 or is awaiting test results.

If an infected household member is continuing to move around the house, then cleaning surfaces is important – particularly door handles, mugs, utensils, counters or any area they may touch. In general, people in these households should exercise a higher degree of caution.

If you have got someone in your home that’s infected, the people most vulnerable are the people over 60 with pre-existing medical conditions – so you should avoid contact with people in that category.

What about social distancing for people who haven’t been advised to self-isolate?

I am of the view that those of us who have not been advised to self-isolate should continue to live our lives as normally as possible, for now.

That’s because when wider social distancing measures come into force, then those measures could be in place for an extended period of time.

We are not talking about just two weeks and then everything goes back to normal. It could be six weeks or more where people are discouraged from interacting with others.

We know from past events that an extended period of self-isolation can have unintended mental health effects and other health impacts such as a lack of physical exercise.

So for now, until there’s evidence of widespread community transmission, then its important to maintain normalcy as much as possible while exercising an extra degree of caution around personal hygiene by:

  • washing hands regularly with soap and water
  • practising good cough and sneeze etiquette (by sneezing into the crook of your elbow)
  • avoiding people who are visibly sick.

But if you’re on a bus and you see someone sneeze or cough, please don’t recoil in horror.

Everyone has to make their own determination as to how much risk they are willing to accept. And it is important to stress that the advice is rapidly changing.

If there’s a sharp increase in the number of cases of people with no travel history or contact with people with no travel history who have tested positive, that would suggest the virus may be circulating more broadly in the community. If we see evidence of such wider community transmission then the advice will likely change. We need to be prepared for that, and listen carefully to what our health authorities have to say about next steps.

In the meantime, it is important for people to remain calm. Through exercising sensible infection control measures, we can all reduce our personal risk of exposure and protect those in our community who are most vulnerable. These are challenging times, but we can, and we will, get through this together.The Conversation

Adam Kamradt-Scott, Associate professor, University of Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

How to flatten the curve of coronavirus, a mathematician explains



SHUTTERSTOCK

Andrew Black, University of Adelaide; Dennis Liu, University of Adelaide, and Lewis Mitchell, University of Adelaide

People travelling into Australia will now have to self-isolate for 14 days – one of a range of measures announced at the weekend by Prime Minister Scott Morrison, with the aim of slowing the spread of the coronavirus and easing the stress on hospital beds.

This general concept of slowing the virus’s spread has been termed “flattening the curve” by epidemiologists – experts who study how often diseases occur in different populations, and why. The term has become widespread on social media as the public is encouraged to practise “social distancing”.

But how does social distancing help to flatten the curve? We can explain by referring to what mathematicians call “exponential growth”.

Exponential growth

In the early stages of an epidemic, when most people are susceptible to infection, mathematicians can model a disease’s spread from person to person as essentially a random “branching process”.

This diagram shows the number of cases, over time, in a branching process with exponential growth. Author Provided.

If one infected person infects two others on average, the number of infected people doubles each generation. This compounding is known as exponential growth.

Of course, an infected person is not definitely going to infect others. There are many factors affecting the likelihood of infection. In a pandemic, the growth rate depends on the average number of people one person can infect, and the time it takes for those people to become infectious themselves.




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Research suggests the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases is growing exponentially worldwide with the number doubling about every six days

Exponential growth models closely match reality when starting with a small number of infected individuals in a large population, such as when the virus first emerged in Wuhan, or when it arrived in Italy or Iran.

But it’s not a good model once a large number of people have been infected. This is because the chance of an infected person contacting a susceptible person declines, simply because there are fewer susceptible people around, and a growing fraction of people have recovered and developed some level of immunity.

Eventually, the chances of an infected person contacting a susceptible person becomes low enough that the rate of infection decreases, leading to fewer cases and eventually, the end of the viral spread.

Flatten the curve

Health authorities around the world have been unable to completely prevent COVID-19’s spread. If cases double every six days, then hospitals, and intensive care units (ICUs) in particular, will be quickly overwhelmed, leaving patients without the necessary care.

But the growth rate can be slowed by reducing the average number of cases that a single case gives rise to.

In doing so, the same number of people will probably be infected, and the epidemic will last longer, but the number of severe cases will be spread out. This means that if you plot a graph of the number of cases over time, the rising and falling curve is longer but its peak is lower. By “flattening the curve” in this way, ICUs will be less likely to run out of capacity.

Flattening the curve is another way of saying slowing the spread. The epidemic is lengthened, but we reduce the number of severe cases, causing less burden on public health systems. The Conversation/CC BY ND

As there is currently no vaccine or specific drug for COVID-19, the only ways we can reduce transmission is through good hygiene, isolating suspected cases, and by social distancing measures such as cancelling large events and closing schools.

Avoid “super-spreaders”

Of course, the situation is not quite as straightforward as a simple branching process. Some people interact more than others, and might come into contact with many different groups.




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Mathematicians model these connections as a social network, such as the one below. Infected people are red nodes, and susceptible people are blue. The large node in the middle of the diagram is a super-spreader, a person who connects with many others, and thus has more potential to spread the disease.

This graph shows how an epidemic might spread across a network over time. Blue dots are susceptible individuals, while red dots are infected people. Two dots are connected by a line if they are in contact with each other, and the more contacts a person has, the bigger their dot is on the network. Author provided

Interventions help remove nodes and break connections.

In the diagram above, the large, highly connected central node would be the best one to remove to break connections. This is why it’s a good idea to avoid large public gatherings during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Mathematical simulations of social distancing have shown how breaking the network apart helps flatten the curve of infection.

How maths is helping

How much social distancing is required to flatten the curve enough to stop hospitals being overwhelmed? Is it enough to quarantine people who have been in contact with confirmed cases? Do we need widespread closure of events, schools and workplaces?

Answers to these questions require mathematical modelling.

We are still in the early stages of the COVID-19 outbreak and there is great uncertainty about the characteristics of this virus. To accurately forecast COVID-19’s growth, the underlying dynamics of transmission need to be determined.

These are driven by factors including:

  • How many people on average does an individual infect? (the “reproduction number” which, according to the World Health Organisation, is currently between 1.4–2.5 people)
  • How long until the onset of symptoms? (the “incubation period”, which is estimated to be 5.1 days)
  • What proportion of transmission occurs prior to the onset of symptoms, if any?

As such data is collected and integrated into models over the coming months, we will be better placed to offer accurate predictions about the course of COVID-19.

Until then, it’s better to err on the side of caution and take swift action to slow transmission, rather than risk a spike in cases, and put strain on our health system.The Conversation

Andrew Black, Lecturer in Applied Mathematics, University of Adelaide; Dennis Liu, PhD Candidate, University of Adelaide, and Lewis Mitchell, Senior Lecturer in Applied Mathematics, University of Adelaide

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

View from The Hill: Scott Morrison announces mandatory self-isolation for all overseas arrivals and gives up shaking hands


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy was still shaking hands on Sunday morning. But when that afternoon Scott Morrison announced the latest coronavirus measures, including compulsory self-isolation for overseas arrivals, the Prime Minister said he and other cabinet members wouldn’t be shaking hands anymore.

Only on Friday Morrison had been thrusting his hand at a notably wary Gladys Berejiklian.

Confusing signals.

On the other hand, this isn’t just a fast-moving situation, but one in which even experts have differing takes (the advice from the federal-state medical officers panel may be unanimous but it’s understood there are disputes in their deliberations), and politicians struggle with responses, even as they follow the medical recommendations. For example, the NSW government has appeared more forward-leaning than the feds.

While members of the public understandably seek certainty, on some fronts there will be no absolutes, just scales of assessment, probability, and risk.

That’s not to say the federal government should not have been clearer at times, and its mass media advertising campaign, which started at the weekend, was inexplicably slow to materialise.

The Australian tally of cases approached 300 and the death toll rose to five at the weekend. Only history will show definitely whether Murphy and the government are right in their claims Australia is keeping “ahead of the curve”, or the critics vindicated in arguing it is behind it.

Morrison in particular has wanted to put the most optimistic gloss on things, not least because he hoped to minimise economic disruption. Despite the constant flow of news conferences over recent weeks, the government avoided dwelling on how bad things could get.




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By Sunday Morrison’s tone had changed. He had a graph to illustrate the need to flatten the curve of infection to enable the health system (notably the intensive care facilities) to cope. “Slowing the spread, you free up the beds,” he said.


Federal Department of Health

Stark and unfolding realities were starting to prevail – though not entirely – over the prime ministerial desire to keep the lines upbeat.

And compulsion and the law were replacing choice and advice, in the measures Morrison outlined following Sunday’s meetings of cabinet’s national security committee and the new “national cabinet” of federal and state leaders (and after Morrison spoke at the weekend with Britain’s Boris Johnson and New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern).

Like New Zealand, Australia will now insist all arrivals self-isolate for a fortnight. The only exceptions will be Pacific Islanders who are transiting to their home countries. Morrison said this measure would be effective in “flattening the curve”.

As foreign travellers dry up, most incoming traffic will be Australians returning home.

Foreign cruise ships are to be stopped from arriving for 30 days in what will be a rolling ban.

The cessation of non-essential gatherings of 500 or more has moved from advice on Friday to a formal prohibition, which will be backed by state law. Morrison flagged the threshold could soon be lowered.

On the enforcement side he said: “the states and territories wisely are not going to create event police or social distancing police … But the legislation impact would mean that if a person did fail to observe the 14 day self-isolation or if an event was organised, that would be contrary, once those provisions are put in place, to state law”.

Berejiklian was quick to say NSW already had the powers to enforce self-isolation, emphasising what was involved “is a matter of life and death”. This recalled her strong language of a few days ago when she said the situation was “not business as usual”.

Work is underway on restrictions on visits to nursing homes and arrangements for indigenous communities as well as further restrictions on enclosed gatherings, which is likely to cut the 500 number. The “national cabinet” will review the position on Tuesday night.




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As for federal cabinet, it will be “social distancing” with “no more handshakes”, more meetings by video conferences, and less travelling. Morrison has already cancelled some engagements.

So far schools generally are not being closed (though some individual schools are shutting down). It’s said closing schools could promote community transmission, with children out and about. Many would be left with grandparents who would be in the most vulnerable age group. Also, if parents had to stay at home to care for their kids, this could deplete the health work force.

But the question of schools remains in the frame.

Arrangements for next week’s parliament are still being worked on, and the presiding officers have had talks with Murphy. The sitting is likely to be kept as short as needed to get through the legislation necessary for last week’s $17.6 billion stimulus package.

Opposition leader Anthony Albanese in his Sunday night national address promised “a spirit of bipartisanship. We will be constructive. We will support the government to protect the health of Australians, but also to protect their jobs and our economy.”

The package was all about trying to head off a recession by keeping growth positive in the June quarter. As things are going, that looks like it could require a miracle as well as the package. Many small businesses will collapse, despite the help the government is offering.

Almost certainly, a lot more stimulus will be needed, with the question only the amount.

But a measure of how deep the crisis is becoming is that at the moment, the national conversation is mostly about health, not economics.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.