As the coronavirus outbreak continues to spread worldwide, many parents are concerned about what exactly they can do to best protect their family.

With queries ranging from whether or not to continue sending their child to day care or school, to whether or not to go ahead with travel plans, we’ve looked into the most frequently asked questions currently on the minds of parents and have found the best advice from experts from Australia and internationally.

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Here’s what you need to know about protecting your family from coronavirus COVID-19.

What is coronavirus?
Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that can infect the respiratory tract and cause symptoms like a runny nose, cough, sore throat, and fever.

At the end of 2019, a new type of coronavirus called COVID-19 began to make people sick in China. This virus came from animals and moved to people. It causes fever, cough, and trouble breathing.

How contagious is the COVID-19?
The virus spreads when when a sick person breathes, talks, coughs or sneezes. The virus can spread from person to person through:

  • close contact with an infectious person (including in the 24 hours before they started showing symptoms)
  • contact with droplets from an infected person’s cough or sneeze
  • touching objects or surfaces (like doorknobs or tables) that have cough or sneeze droplets from an infected person, and then touching your mouth or face

COVID-19 is a new disease, so there is no existing immunity in our community. For the latest information on coronavirus cases in Australia, please refer to the Department of Health.

What are the symptoms?
The virus can cause a range of symptoms, ranging from mild illness to pneumonia. Symptoms may include fever; flu-like symptoms such as coughing, sore throat and headaches; difficulty breathing in some cases.

If you become unwell and suspect you may have symptoms of coronavirus, see your health care provider immediately.

Wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 30 seconds.

What are the statistics?
As at 3:00pm on 29 March 2020, there have been 3,966 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Australia. There have been 331 new cases since 3:00pm yesterday.

Of the 3,966 confirmed cases in Australia, 16 have died from COVID-19. More than 211,000 tests have been conducted across Australia.

Across the world there have been more than 664,900 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and more than 30,800 deaths.

How is Australia handling the outbreak?
On March 11, 2020 the World Health Organization labelled the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic.

The Australian Government’s health response to the COVID-19 outbreak aims to:

  • minimise the number of people becoming infected or sick with COVID-19
  • minimise how sick people become and the mortality rate
  • manage the demand on our health systems
  • help you to manage your own risk and the risk to your families and communities

Australian prime minister Scott Morrison announced further restrictions on Sunday, March 29, including limiting public gatherings and indooor gathering to two people.

What about families of more than two people?
Households of more than two people can all go outside together, at the same time but it is recommend outings all only for essential purposes.

In New South Wales and Victoria you can only have two people people gatherings indoors. This excludes households. But you can’t invite anyone else over, and you can’t meet up with anyone outside of your household.

If you live alone, technically, you can have one visitor.

In Victoria, police can fine anyone gathering in groups of more than two a $1600 on the spot fine. The only exemption if you live with the people.

All non-essential outside trips are discouraged. You may only go out on essential outings, for example if you need to go to the supermarket, need to go to a medical appointment, have compassionate reasons, have to work or study outside the home, or need to exercise, you can do so, but the physical distance rules remain in place.

The situation is changing rapidly. Stay up to date with the latest information about the spread of COVID-19 and the steps being taken by the government to slow the spread here.

In Australia, masks are not currently recommended for the general public.

How can parents best protect their family?
There is currently no vaccine to prevent the coronavirus COVID-19. The best protection is to avoid being exposed to this virus.

You can keep your family healthy and help prevent illness by:

  • Washing your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 30 seconds, especially before eating or touching your face. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Keep your kids away from others who are sick or keep them home if they are ill.
  • If you are sick, avoiding contact with others and staying more than 1.5 metres away from people
  • Try to stop children from touching their mouth, eyes and nose.
  • Teach children to cough and sneeze into their arm or elbow, not their hands.
  • When using a tissue, throw it away immediately after use and wash hands.
  • Clean and disinfect household objects and surfaces in your home.

If you have a confirmed case, you need to self-quarantine to prevent it spreading to other people.

Social distancing
Social distancing will help slow the spread of viruses. Do this by:

  • staying at home when you are unwell
  • avoiding large public gatherings if they’re not essential
  • keeping a distance of 1.5 metres between you and other people whenever possible
  • minimising physical contact, especially with people at higher risk such as older people and people with existing health conditions

Should your child be at school or daycare?
The Prime Minister announced on Sunday, March 22 that schools should remain open based on health advice from the state and federal government.

These guidelines also apply to childcare centres and preschools will also continue to operate as normal.

New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian is urging parents to keep children at home.

Many schools have closed or have moved to online education with parents home-schooling their child. Schools remain open to those parents who can’t care for their children at home.

Get your 2020 flu shot
University of New South Wale’s Professor MacIntyre says we should all get the next flu vaccine when it’s made available.

“Everyone should get the flu shot as soon as it’s available because there were documented cases in China of people with both the infections simultaneously – flu and coronavirus.”

Should you or your children wear a mask?
In Australia face masks are currently not recommended for the general public. They are only recommended if you have a cough that you could transmit, or are taking care of someone who is sick with COVID-19.

The Australian Government Department of Health states: “If you are well, you do not need to wear a surgical mask. There is little evidence that widespread use of surgical masks in healthy people prevents transmission in public.

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At present, there have been a low number of children globally affected by coronavirus (COVID-2019).

What does isolate at home mean?
People who need to isolate must stay at home and not attend public places, including work, school, childcare or public areas of university, higher education and vocational education campuses. Only people they usually live with should stay in the home. Do not see visitors. Where possible, ask others such as friends or family, who are not required to be isolated, to get food or other necessities.

If the person in isolation must leave the home or residence, such as to seek medical care, they are instructed to wear a surgical mask if they have one.

Are children more at risk?
Globally doctors have been a relatively low amount of cases among children. Richard Martinello, an associate professor of infectious disease at the Yale School of Medicine, told Business Insider in early February:

“From everything that we’ve seen, and for reasons that are unclear to us, it does seem that this is primarily impacting adults.”

A low case count among kids is a good thing, according to health experts, because children are less likely to wash their hands, cover their mouths, and refrain from touching others – behaviours that can spread germs.

“If we can protect kids – one, it’s good for them, but two, it’s good for the population,” Aaron Milstone, an epidemiologist and professor of pediatrics at Johns Hopkins University, told Business Insider. “If it does penetrate the pediatric population, that might amplify the outbreak.”

Who is most at risk?
Experts believe older people especially those with a history of chronic illness are most at risk.

A study by the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention found that the virus has so far most seriously affected older people with pre-existing health problems.

The data suggests a person’s chances of dying from COVID-19 only increases with age, with the risk of dying particularly high among patients in their 70s and 80s.

The Australian Government Department of Health states people most at risk include:

  • people who have travelled in a high risk country or region.
  • people who have been in close contact with someone who has a confirmed case of COVID-19.
  • people with compromised immune systems (such as people who have cancer)
  • elderly people
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples (as they have higher rates of chronic illness)
  • people with chronic medical conditions
  • people in group residential settings
  • people in detention facilities

 

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Experts advise pregnant women to be especially vigilant when it comes to reducing the risk of infections.

Advice for pregnant women
The Royal Women’s Hospital is closely monitoring the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) and is taking all advised precautions for its patients, visitors and staff. In addition to this, Professor Mark Umstad, Director of Maternity Services at the Women’s, is giving the following advice to pregnant women.

“While there is limited information on the novel coronavirus currently, we do know that pregnant women especially should be vigilant when it comes to reducing the risk of infections,” said Professor Mark Umstad.

“When a woman is pregnant, her immune system changes, making her more susceptible to respiratory infections – which is why it is also important to vaccinate against whooping cough and influenza.”

“Although very little is known about the effects of this coronavirus, a small study of nine pregnant women with confirmed COVID-19 in Wuhan, China, found no evidence that the virus leads to severe adverse outcomes for newborn infants, or that it can be passed to the child while in the womb.

“Among the women, who were all late in their pregnancies giving birth by caesarean section, were two cases of fetal distress but all nine babies were delivered alive and tested negative to COVID-19. But we must remember this study is very small and done over a very short period of time.”

How long will it be until there is a treatment or vaccine?
Professor Nigel McMillan, director in infectious diseases and immunology at Menzies Health Institute Queensland, Griffith University said a vaccine was likely 18 months away and would be useful only after the virus had gone pandemic.

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More information

While coronavirus is of concern, it is important to remember that most people displaying symptoms such as fever, cough, sore throat or tiredness are likely suffering with a cold or other respiratory illness – not coronavirus.

For the latest advice, information and resources, go to www.health.gov.au

Call the National Coronavirus Health Information Line on 1800 020 080. It operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week. If you require translating or interpreting services, call 131 450.

The phone number of your state or territory public health agency is available at www.health.gov.au/state-territory-contacts

If you have concerns about your health, speak to your doctor.