New South Wales Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Kerry Chant speaks to Chinese media and community leaders in Sydney
Chinese-Australians are not just taking personal measures but are acting to protect the wider community from the possibility of infection
31 January 2020 | Marcus Reubenstein
New South Wales Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Kerry Chant, has praised community leaders, and the Chinese-Australian medical fraternity, for actively engaging public health officials in the face of the coronavirus.
Earlier this week she met with Chinese community leaders and spoke to Chinese language media about the challenges of coronavirus and constructive measures that Chinese-Australians can take to minimize the risk of its spread.
“The Chinese community has been incredibly responsive in terms of heeding the messages”Dr Kerry Chant, NSW Chief Medical Officer
Said Dr. Chant, “I’ve just come from a Chinese media event and I think that highlights that the Chinese community has reached out and, in some cases, we’ve reached in. I want to acknowledge the leadership of the Chinese community leaders in getting the message out.”
According to community leader, and prominent Sydney GP, Dr Ven Tan, the briefing from the state’s top medical officer was a very important initiative in the face of uncertainty of the coronavirus and its transmission.
Uniformed and false social media posts have not helped. Says Dr. Tan, “Creating a panic in the community is, I think, dangerous. From my point of view, because of this I think the Sydney Chinese community may have overacted a little bit.
“That’s why it’s important that we have the (NSW) Department of Health speak directly to the Chinese community, to explain to us the true situation and not to create panic. It’s a great sign that they did not hesitate at the opportunity to speak to the Chinese language media and reach out to the Chinese community.”
Speaking directly to the Chinese-language media yesterday, federal Health Minister Greg Hunt was appreciative of the efforts of both the Chinese-Australian community and the Chinese Government.
“Firstly, on behalf of the Australian people and the Australian Government,” he said, “let me express my deep sympathy and our deep sympathy for the people of Wuhan city and Hubei province and China more generally.
“And to acknowledge that so many Australians of Chinese descent and heritage have connections directly may have been affected in terms of their own families by the outbreak of the coronavirus.”
Experts ease concerns over risk of transmission
A number of reports, particularly on social media, have overstated the circumstances in which the coronavirus can be transmitted. According to Professor Paul Kelly, acting Commonwealth Chief Medical Officer, the virus cannot be spread through “casual contact.”
Says Professor Kelly, “We’ve had inquiries about the virus being transmitted by parcels from China – that’s totally safe. The virus will not last on a parcel or any hard surface.
“In terms of walking past people on the street who may or may not be infected that is also virtually totally safe.Prof. Paul Kelly, acting Commonwealth Chief Medical Officer
“When we are talking about contact we are talking about close contact over a period of time.”
According to Professor Kelly a growing number of cases that have presented are the lower end of the spectrum in terms of severity. Because of this, he says, “I am confident that we will see the serious end of the disease is at the minimum.”
In terms of infection rates, coronavirus is not as contagious as many more familiar viruses. “It’s quite different from measles,” says Professor Kelly.
Measles is much more infectious. On average a person with measles will infect another 12 or 18 people if there’s no vaccine.Prof. Paul Kelly, acting Commonwealth Chief Medical Officer
“Whereas a droplet of (coronavirus) infection it is one or two extra people (who will be infected). Which still is a concern, which means it will continue to increase over a period but it’s definitely not as transmissible, or as dangerous, as measles for example.”
The Commonwealth Department of Health is providing constant novel coronavirus updates on its website.
Chinese community remains vigilant
The fact that the coronavirus outbreak has coincided has only compounded the disruption and anxiety of the Chinese and Chinese-Australian communities.
As a precautionary measure many Chinese New Year events in Australia have been cancelled, mindful of the concerns of all Australians about the possibility of transmission.
Former Federal Attorney General Philip Ruddock praises such moves saying, “A lot of Chinese New Year events in Australia have been cancelled with the wellbeing of the wider community in mind and this should be acknowledged.
“It should be recognised that all stakeholders, including health professionals and the Chinese community are taking this seriously.
Spread of Sinophobia a concern
Australian multicultural broadcaster, SBS has reported that a number of Chinese people have faced verbal, and online, abuse due to the coronavirus.
Mary Patetsos, chair of the Federation of Ethnic Communities Councils of Australia (FECCA) told SBS, “We cannot sit back and let people who hold racist views use the coronavirus as an excuse to vilify members of the Australian Chinese community.
“Our leaders, and indeed all Australians must call out Sinophobia whenever and wherever they see it.”