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The coronavirus: What is COVID-19 and how can I protect myself?

In partnership with nib Group Medical Advisor Dr Hamish Black

It's taken over news headlines, but what is the coronavirus?


For information on how we're supporting our members through this difficult and uncertain time, please visit our COVID-19 member support page.

If you're looking to change your holiday plans in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak (COVID-19), please visit nib travel insurance.

If you're looking for information about the coronavirus relating to your nib health insurance policy, please visit COVID-19 and your cover.

Update: Since the first official report of the novel coronavirus (also known as COVID-19) back in December 2019, the disease has spread, causing the World Health Organization to label it a pandemic and Australia’s Prime Minister to declare the situation a human biosecurity emergency.

This means it’s now more important than ever to keep informed on the ways that we can all do our bit to slow the spread of the virus.

Under the advice of the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC), there are a number of measures we all need to put in place to protect not only our own health, but the health of our loved ones and our community.

To see the updated list of guidelines and restrictions, head to the Australian Government’s dedicated page.

To understand more about the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) and how to manage your risk of infection, we spoke to GP Dr Hamish Black.

The name coronavirus comes from the Latin word corona, meaning crown. This is due to the virus being round and ringed with spikes when viewed under a microscope, appearing similar to the shape of a crown.

According to the Centre for Disease Control, the latest coronavirus originates in bats and can be passed on to other animals. Although this disease circulates more commonly between animals, it can occasionally cross over to humans through mutations of the virus.

Although no one knows exactly where the virus originated, according to Columbia University epidemiologist Ian Lipkin, “there is no question that this virus moved into humans from an animal source.”

  • Direct close contact with a person while they’re infectious, or

  • Contact with droplets of bodily fluids when an infected person coughs or sneezes

The World Health Organization estimates those infected will transmit the virus to between two and 2.5 other people.

To help minimise outbreaks of the virus, the Australian Government has launched the COVIDsafe app. This app uses tracing technology to let you know if you’ve been in contact with someone else using the app who’s tested positive for the novel coronavirus in the past few weeks; meaning health officials can contact those potentially exposed to COVID-19 quicker than ever.

According to Hamish, “The course of illness is variable, and the people who tend to get sick are the elderly or immunocompromised.”

Symptoms arise within two to 14 days of exposure to the virus and can include:

  • Fever

  • Tiredness

  • Dry cough

  • Aches and pains

  • Runny nose or nasal congestion

  • Sore throat

  • Diarrhoea

  • Difficulty breathing

  • Thoroughly clean hands with an alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water

  • Keep at least one metre from anyone who’s coughing or sneezing

  • Avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth

  • Cover your mouth when coughing or sneezing. If you don’t have a tissue, sneeze or cough into your elbow, not your hands

  • Stay home if you feel unwell

  • Stay informed by reading the latest updates from the Australian Government

  • Follow the advice of your GP

Should you wear a facemask?

Wearing a mask can help protect you, your loved ones and your community, so it’s essential that you keep up to date with the latest Australian Government recommendations.

Are there places you shouldn’t travel?

For the first time in history, the Prime Minister has declared an indefinite ‘Level 4 Travel Ban’. The advice to every Australian is to not travel abroad.

For more up-to-date information, check the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) travel advice on the Smartraveller website.

If you’re looking for information about changing your holiday plans in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak (COVID-19), please visit nib travel insurance.

What should you do if you have symptoms?

“Those people most at risk of becoming infected are those in contact with someone with the virus or someone who has travelled to areas with high infection rates,” says Hamish.

The World Health Organization advises that if you have a fever, cough and difficulty breathing, you should seek medical care.

If you are diagnosed, “treatment is supportive and also about minimising the spread,” says Hamish. “You will likely be confined to your house for 14 days, and your close contacts will be tested for the virus if they develop symptoms.”

If you’re concerned about symptoms, call the Healthdirect hotline, which is open 24 hours a day, to speak to a registered nurse: 1800 022 222

For more information you can call the National Coronavirus Health Information Line on 1800 020 080.

For more information on the Australian management of the outbreak, travel restrictions and advice: https://www.health.gov.au/news/coronavirus-update-at-a-glance

For up to date advice from The World Health Organization: https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019

Information correct as of 5 August, 2020.

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Dr Hamish Black

In partnership with nib Group Medical Advisor

Dr Hamish Black

Dr Hamish Black has been a medical practitioner for more than 25 years. In addition to his role as nib group medical advisor, he still spends two days a week practising as a GP. He has spent many years working in emergency departments and in rural Australia, including a stint with the Royal Flying Doctor Service. Hamish also loves karaoke and dancing (though not that well at either, he says!), with Play that Funky Music by Wild Cherry being his karaoke favourite.