15 May 2020

COVID-19 and the Precautionary Principle

Australian States are moving to ease restrictions imposed because of the COVID-19 epidemic. We went so close to eradicating the virus from our community but even in the past day we are finding new cases and international experience tells us that the novel coronavirus is highly infectious and that numbers can grow very quickly. I'm just winding up a day in the clinic and it's clear from talking to a lot of people today that they are scared of what they are seeing out there in the community with scarcely and observance of precautions.

It's frustrating that we are being told to maintain physical distancing but there is still resistance to recommending masks, even in places where it is impossible to maintain physical distancing.

Yesterday one of the Deputy Chief Medical Officers said that this is an ongoing conversation in the committee advising the Federal Government but "the epidemic is just not severe enough" at this stage to justify that advice.

On the one hand I am pleased that masks are still in discussion. The CDC and several countries around the world are now encouraging or mandating the use of masks by the public but I have to ask the question "How bad does a second wave have to get before there is an official change of view on masks as an aid to prevention?"

I prefer what we doctors call THE PRECAUTIONARY PRINCIPLE: that you should take REASONABLE MEASURES to avoid THREATS that are SERIOUS and PLAUSIBLE.

The threat of a second wave of COVID-19 is SERIOUS and PLAUSIBLE.

Wearing a mask in a crowded place during a pandemic with unknown numbers of asymptomatic but infectious people in the community is, in my view, a REASONABLE MEASURE.

You can buy masks online or you can make your own. And there are also grassroots movements here in Australia who will sew them for you.

Wearing a mask is no guarantee of protection for you or other people but the evidence is increasingly supporting wearing masks in public, and at worst, it's better than nothing.

It's especially important where physical distancing is impossible such as public transport or in other crowded places.

We have to do everything we can to prevent the transmission of this virus.

Please don't wait until it's too late