Coronavirus is forcing Australians to give up old habits while raising questions about how to safely go about day-to-day life.
In a series of articles, we speak to health experts about some of the personal measures people should (and shouldn't) take to stop infection.
Do I need a face mask? I keep seeing people wearing them in public
Public health experts are very clear on this. Face masks are not effective for people who are healthy, and most masks sold to the public aren't of high enough quality to stop infection.
In fact, face masks can even put people more at risk of COVID-19 infection by making them touch their faces more often.
University of Melbourne health researcher Dr Kathryn Snow said people who were sick with the virus needed access to high quality medical masks to minimise the risk to other people when they coughed.
Health workers also needed high quality medical masks to protect themselves when treating unwell people.
"There is a serious shortage of high quality medical masks in Australia and elsewhere at the moment - it is very important that these masks are only used by health workers and people with the virus, who truly need them," she said.
University of NSW senior lecturer in public health Dr Holly Seale said there was a potential that people were wearing a product that didn't meet the right standard, because they bought it online.
Another issue was that face masks were single-use only and needed to be disposed of after use, Dr Seale said. They cannot be cleaned or reused.
Despite this, there were cases in which people were wearing masks in public, taking them off to eat, putting them on the table next to them, and then putting them on again afterwards.
"This is not a good practice for the individual or the community," Dr Seale said.
The federal government's advice is that only people who are unwell should wear face masks, and if they are unwell, they should not be out in public spaces until they have recovered.
Does hand sanitiser actually protect against COVID-19 transmission?
Alcohol-based hand sanitisers are recommended where handwashing with soap and water is not available.
Monash University medicine professor Paul Komesaroff said hand sanitiser was useful if people had no access to soap and water but had likely been in contact with someone who had a pathogen, like a virus, they wanted to kill.
However, the best way for people to protect against COVID-19 infection was to wash their hands with soap and water regularly, Professor Komesaroff said.
Is it still safe for me to go to the gym? What about outdoor sporting activities?
Some forms of exercise are safer at the moment than others.
Exercising outside on your own is much safer than sports or hobbies that involve direct contact between people, like wrestling or partnered dancing, Dr Snow said.
"The main risk at the gym would be from contaminated surfaces that many other people have touched," she said.
"It's very important that gyms are regularly cleaning equipment, and that people are washing their hands thoroughly before and after workouts."
People who want to play it safe could switch to solo forms of exercise outside like running, cycling, or yoga/pilates in a park.
In order to slow the spread of the virus, the federal government is encouraging people to stay home more often and to keep their distance from others.
Dr Seale said to promote this, people could adopt a strategy such as exercising outside - going for a walk or running around the block or in a park while trying to stay three steps away from others.
"It has also been suggested that we try online fitness classes and do them from home," she said.
University of Sydney global health researcher, Associate Professor Adam Kamradt-Scott, said it was still safe to go to the gym.
"But everyone needs to exercise a higher degree of caution to reduce their risk of exposure," he said.
"This includes more regular handwashing, cough and sneeze etiquette and avoid anyone who may be visibly unwell.
"Equipment needs to be regularly cleaned, and as with public transport, people need to be mindful of maintaining social distance."
Is it still safe to catch public transport?
Yes, it is still safe to use public transport.
But people need to exercise precautions to reduce their personal risk of exposure, Associate Professor Kamradt-Scott said.
"These measures include regular handwashing, cough and sneeze etiquette, avoiding people who are visibly unwell, and exercising social distancing whereby people remain between one to two metres apart," he said.
The evidence suggests that COVID-19 is spread by prolonged contact - for example, sitting next to someone for hours, or physical contact between people, Dr Snow said.
Simply walking past someone with the virus is not likely to put people at risk, unless they are standing next to someone when that person coughs. This is why a distance of 1.5 metres is recommended whenever possible. Contaminated surfaces are also a potential risk.
And on the 1.5 metre distance? Monash University public health expert Professor Allen Cheng said that clearly wasn't a sharp demarcation, making people safe from the droplets of someone sneezing at 1.51 metres, but at risk at 1.49 metres.
"Some more recent studies have suggested that most droplets do fall mostly within one metre, so the 1.5 metres recommendation allows for some uncertainty," he said.
- We're trying to explain the coronavirus to our readers. Send us your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
- For information on COVID-19, please go to the ACT Health website or the federal Health Department's website.
- You can also call the Coronavirus Health Information Line on 1800 020 080
- If you have serious symptoms, such as difficulty breathing, call Triple Zero (000)
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