How we can avoid a second wave

The relaxation of coronavirus restrictions across Australia means the country could suffer a second wave of infections but people can help prevent this by maintaining certain practices.

While many Australians continue to keep 1.5m from others despite the gradual easing of measures, some appear to assume that life has gone back to normal.

"Most people don't care about social distancing anymore," one woman who lives in regional Queensland told

During a trip to Coles shortly after the Premier announced the state would be winding back certain measures, she was approached by an older woman, who came up behind her and started rubbing her arm.

"She was about 50cm from my face and said it was great to be able to do shopping with everyone around again," the woman said. "I was so surprised and a bit shocked."

She told the older woman she didn't think she was supposed to be touching her, and the woman apologised before hurrying away.

While the desire for human touch after weeks of lockdown is understandable, it's this type of behaviour that could leave Australia open to a second wave of coronavirus infections.

In fact a "large second wave" is what Chief Medical Officer Professor Brendan Murphy says keeps him up at night.

The potential for COVID-19 outbreaks to flare up and become uncontrollable isn't far-fetched, he told 7.30.

"We've seen that this virus is incredibly infectious. We saw 35 people from one wedding in the early phases. It can spread really quickly.

"If people aren't careful and we have lots of pockets of outbreaks and widespread community transmission, you know, thousands more cases, that is what worries me most of all."

Northern Territory's chief health officer Hugh Heggie has also said he is "personally terrified" of a second wave of virus cases.

Authorities are warning locals not to become complacent as restaurants, cafes and gyms reopen in the NT on Friday.

With restrictions being eased, the numbers of shoppers and workers are slowly increasing, such as in the CBD in Sydney, pictured here. Picture: Dean Lewins/AAP
With restrictions being eased, the numbers of shoppers and workers are slowly increasing, such as in the CBD in Sydney, pictured here. Picture: Dean Lewins/AAP

Canberra Hospital infectious disease physician Professor Peter Collignon told that the key to preventing a second wave was for people to maintain social distancing.

"A lot of modelling says you need about 90 per cent of the population doing the right thing if you want to keep infections down and I fully agree with that," he said.

Prof Collignon said regulations would not work unless that people understood the concepts behind the spread of coronavirus, which is that it's spread through droplets, and why it was crucial they kept 1.5m away from others, even when having friends over in their own homes.

"As soon as people think the virus is eliminated and not a problem anymore, people fall back into bad habits," he said.

"Unless people all police this themselves and get the fundamentals, we are not going to stay on top of this."

He said that "normal" - if you defined it as what life was like in October last year - would not return for at least a couple of years.

"There is a new normal."

This is how Australians should be acting under the "new normal".


Most states are now allowing people to have friends and family over again but that doesn't mean social distancing goes out the door.

Prof Collignon said adults should still stay 1.5m apart.

"When you sit at a table, try and space people 1.5m apart," he said.

"Don't all crowd in the kitchen while someone's preparing food.

"Or ask people to come over for lunch and to bring their own sandwich."

Prof Collignon suggests having people over for brunch or lunch so you can sit outside, in the sunshine if possible.

"Outdoors is probably safer than indoors," he said. "There's often more room outside."

"Sit out in the sunshine as UV light does seem to be better at killing the virus."

You can still hang out with your friends but consider having them over for lunch, instead of dinner, and consider asking them to BYO sandwich.
You can still hang out with your friends but consider having them over for lunch, instead of dinner, and consider asking them to BYO sandwich.


Now that more people are out and about, it's harder to avoid others getting too close but Prof Collignon suggests taking the "polite" approach.

"Now is a good idea to step back and let someone go in front of you, be polite," Prof Collignon said.

"Maybe you have to wait for another lift, or use the stairs.

"The reason the stairs are safer is you are not confined with someone for one minute, you can walk past someone on the stairs but it's five seconds."


Reducing the risk of catching COVID-19 could be as simple as doing your shopping at times when you know that Coles, Woolworths or Bunnings are less likely to be crowded.

"You can use Google apps to work this out; it tells you the peak times," Prof Collignon said.

There’s no need to cram into a lift – just wait for the next one. Picture: Charlie Steell
There’s no need to cram into a lift – just wait for the next one. Picture: Charlie Steell


Prof Collignon also suggests keeping the number of people you socialise with each week as low as possible, depending on your mental state.

"If you used to see 100 people a week, but now you are seeing 10 people a week, you have probably decreased your chance of getting the virus by 90 per cent," he said.

"If you do physical distancing you probably decrease this even more."

"You can't have zero risk but you don't need to be a hermit."


If you are obese, aged over 70, or aged over 50 with a medical condition, you need to be more careful.

"You are not more likely to get (the coronavirus) or give it to others, but if you get it, you are more likely to have worse complications from it," Prof Collignon said.

For those who are pregnant, Prof Collignon said there was no data to suggest they were no more at risk than others of the same age but there were lots of reasons pregnant women would not want an infection, and they should be more careful, although not unduly concerned.


Employers will also need to consider how to keep their workers safe and this will likely involve staggered start and finish times so people aren't cramming on to public transport, or hanging out in the office kitchen at the same times.

"People in staffrooms will have to keep the 1.5m rule," Prof Collignon said. "Workplaces will have to change their practices."

If people do have to be in proximity with others, such as those working in hospitality or who are optometrists or dentists, Prof Collignon believes they should consider wearing a face shield.

It helps stop infections by blocking droplets generated from coughing or spluttering. They are also reusable as they can be washed with detergent.

"You can communicate, you can see someone's face and they are more effective than a mask," Prof Collignon said. "You can do your job comfortably for hours while wearing it."

Even those who are worried about returning to the office could wear them.

RELATED: Can you refuse to go back to work?



This is another message that bears repeating, if you are sick don't go to work or use public transport.

Prof Collignon said most outbreaks so far have occurred because someone went to work or to an event when they were unwell, even if they only had mild symptoms.


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Originally published as How we can avoid a second wave

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