Dr Shitij Kapur, the head of the GO8 health advisory panel to the federal government comments on the ABS data about Australia’s response to the coronavirus, the lockdown and its impact on people’s mental health.
Nearly two months after the coronavirus restrictions were enforced, the head of an academic advisory panel to the federal government has showered the Australian community with praise for restricting the number of coronavirus cases.
Dr Shitij Kapur, the chair of the Group of Eight (GO8) advisory panel, and Prof. Duncan Maskell, the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Melbourne presented their most recent report to federal Health Minister to Greg Hunt earlier this month.
- ABS survey: 94% people maintained social distancing, 85% avoided public places during Covid-19 lockdown
- Most common personal stressor in lockdown was loneliness, 22% per cent suffered: ABS
- 'Coronavirus hotspots are easier to manage than community spread,' says Dr Shitij Kapur of Melbourne University
The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) had recently released data reflecting the compliance shown by people towards the coronavirus restrictions.
Between April and May, since the coronavirus restrictions have been in place, 94 per cent Australians maintained social distancing and 85 per cent avoided going to public places.
“When the social distancing program was announced, it was unclear whether Australians, known for their love of outdoors, will comply with it or not. But the Australian community has surprised everyone with such a high participation rate. Congratulations to the Australian community,” Dr Kapur says.
Dr Kapur, the dean of University of Melbourne’s School of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences, is also its the Assistant Vice-Chancellor (Health).
Talking about the possibility of a second wave of transmission, Dr Kapur says it is very difficult to totally remove the virus from the community.
“Every country or state has to take a balanced decision keeping in mind its control of the coronavirus, the preparedness of hospitals and the public health testing system. In Australia, we have been able to meet these conditions to slowly begin relaxing restrictions,” he adds.
Commenting on the coronavirus cluster transmissions, especially in context of a recent outbreak in several outlets of a fast food chain in Melbourne, Dr Kapur says that hotspots may not be all that bad because they are easier to control.
“On the face of it, a transmission hotspot seems like a very bad thing. But from a public health point of view, it is better to have a hotspot than see the virus spread in the community,” adds Dr Kapur.
He sheds light on “the delicate balance the government is trying to achieve” before restarting businesses to revive the economy.
“It’s a question of balancing risk with benefit. If you want perfect safety, you may have to wait for many months before relaxing restrictions,” he adds.
Dr Kapur, in an earlier interview with SBS Punjabi, had praised Australia’s Covid-19 testing rate, which is said to be amongst the highest in the world.
Nearly two months later, Federal Health Minister Hunt said last week that out of the 1.1 million tests that Australia has done since the outbreak of the coronavirus, just over 7000 cases had been detected.
This makes Australia’s infection rate a mere 0.6 per cent.
When asked, if in hindsight, it was right to enforce a lockdown that impacted the remaining 99.4 per cent people, Dr Kapur replies that the target should be to have no infection at all.
“It’s the sign of success. In a perfect world, the infection rate should be zero. This figure in the US and India is much higher. This is not a waste. Testing will continue and we’ll do thousands more tests and that will allow more relaxation of restrictions,” Dr Kapur says.
However, the major side effects of the lockdown have been seen on the economy and people’s mental health.
The ABS survey also finds that between April and May, loneliness was the "most common stressor," with 22 per cent people suffering from it, out of which women significantly outnumbered men.
A neuro-psychiatrist by training, Dr Kapur says that is “the sad and difficult part of isolation”.
“Women are generally more social than men and the impact of isolation on them is more than that on men. As a result, they suffer from loneliness more,” he says, hoping that with the newly eased social restrictions, Australia’s mental health data may improve.
If you would like to talk to someone about your mental health, you can contact Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636 or Lifeline on 13 11 14.
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