Highly contagious diseases have been around for as long as humanity has existed.
Throughout our written history we have seen massive societal changes associated with outbreaks such as The Plague of Justinian, The Black Death, Smallpox and the Spanish Flu. These deadly diseases remain firmly rooted in our collective consciousness due both to the devastating widespread impact and deep-seated fear we all have for getting sick from others.
While Novel Coronavirus COVID-19 might not be quite as deadly for most of the population as some of these famous plagues, it is particularly insidious due to the long incubation time. It is very easy for people to be carriers of this virus and pass it on to many others before they even become aware of any symptoms.
It is a great concern for our community that this virus is significantly more dangerous to seniors and those with compromised immune systems or respiratory problems.
Because COVID-19 has arrived in the modern age of globalization, cheap air travel and increasing interconnectedness across countries, it has quickly become a global pandemic.
It is no longer possible to contain this virus and prevent it from spreading through the population continuously every season.
The reason is because COVID-19 is from the same family of coronaviruses which are responsible for a range of illnesses including SARS, MERS and 10-30% of common colds that we can continuously get sick from every year.
Without drastic measures being taken, such as mass business closures and mandatory social isolation, COVID-19 could become more than just a serious threat to vulnerable populations.
Luckily, governments around the world, and particularly in Australia, are taking this threat very seriously.
Population data shows a strong trend over the last 30 years towards denser populations in cities, and as a result the number of people that we are in contact with on a daily basis is significantly higher than ever before.
This urban density is what allows for such a widespread and exponential spread of a highly contagious disease such as COVID-19.
Because of the long incubation times, and the severity of the symptoms for those most affected, an exponential growth of new infections would eventually overwhelm our healthcare systems.
These systems were already under pressure from budget and equipment shortages and even if only less than 5% of the population needs urgent medical care they simply will not cope with an additional 1 million+ patients.
The only way to prevent this scenario and stop the exponential increase of cases, is for everyone to dramatically reduce the amount of people they are in contact with on a daily basis.
This will not result in the eradication of coronavirus, but will allow our healthcare systems to gradually treat the most seriously affected without collapsing completely.
It might not be very pleasant, but the easiest way to protect both yourself and the rest of society from this threat, is to simply stay away from all non-essential contact with other humans for an extended period of time.
This article shows the simulated effects of an exponential virus outbreak with and without social distancing measures implemented. When we reduce contact among the population, it allows us to dramatically reduce the number of peak infections that health services have to deal with, avoiding a potential collapse.
It may take anywhere up to 6 months of social distancing before we can begin to return to normal. Office workers everywhere are embracing remote work (including Sea Spirit) and people are finding ways to get their critical supplies without having to battle through crowds of people.
We all already know how important these two measures are for reducing your chance of infecting yourself after exposure to COVID-19 (or any virus for that matter). These two pieces of advice are plastered everywhere due to the efforts of health organisations to educate everyone on how to best protect ourselves.
But we found some examples of exactly why these two points are incredibly important with some visual assistance.
Mythbusters show how easily a (fake) running nose can spread contaminated fluid through normal social contact during a dinnner party with some unsuspecting volunteers.
Think you've been washing your hands properly? This video shows just how ineffective a quick hand wash can be using black ink to show what portion of your hand actually gets cleaned.
We have found these types of videos have been an effective way to educate children and young people exactly why they need to change their behaviour to protect themselves, their communities and their older relatives. Please share with your friends & family!
We are fortunate that coronaviruses do not easily mutate (compared to other viruses). This means that developing a vaccine is quite likely, and the risk of this virus mutating into a far deadlier version is fairly low.
But what about the next pandemic? The spread of COVID-19 has shown that concentrated urban society is extremely vulnerable to rapid exponential outbreak of viruses that incubate for extended periods of time.
The best thing that will come from this current crisis is that society is learning to behave in a more hygienic fashion. We are also widely using the power of video conferencing technology to do more non-essential communication remotely. This means that individual communities can be more insulated when an outbreak occurs somewhere in the world and it allows individuals at risk such as those with weak immune systems and the elderly, to consider moving away from major population centers.
If another virus was to emerge with a similar potential for widespread delayed infection, but with a much higher fatality rate, it could mean more than just an economic shut down. It could cause a collapse of civilization as we know it.
The time has come for individuals and society to recognise the ongoing threat of viral pandemics and take real measures to change our behaviour so that COVID-19 is the last pandemic we ever have to deal with.