Letter from the General Secretary regarding the prevention of Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) 

Recent news regarding the prevention of Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) is no doubt on the minds of our church community. As we prepare and remain vigilant, our thoughts are of you as you prepare in your communities.

The Synod has, so far, been in communication with staff and our other colleagues but know that events of this week mean that it is timely to share our advice to our broader family, our Presbyteries, and Congregations who may also be preparing to communicate and take action in the event that it is needed.  

No doubt, you are following the invaluable Department of Health and NSW Health public health leadership and are working with your church councils to ensure best practices are in place and contingencies for possible disruption are being considered. For all up to date information visit www.health.nsw.gov.au.

We know you will act with the greatest care and wisdom for your communities and trust you will continue to remain vigilant.

I thought it may help to update you on our planning progress. I have included valuable resources and links and ask that you take the time to read and pass on to your communities at this time.

The Synod will continue to share information as it becomes available, or as requested, to assist your management over the coming months. I encourage you to stay in contact with your presbytery if you require support. Synod is also available to assist.

We have recently updated our business continuity plans to manage all operations in the eventuation of any disruption. Additionally, we are discussing other contingency plans to ensure that we can continue to provide ongoing service to you including enabling our workforce to work from home as needed.

If you have not already done so, we encourage you to consider a plan with your management or church council for how you will continue your service if you, or your community, is affected by extended absenteeism, isolation, work from home, and other related circumstances.

The Synod is here to support your plans and your communities. If you would like further support, please first contact your Presbytery or call or email the Synod:

 Email: contactus@nswact.uca.org.au

Telephone: Uniting Church Synod NSW and ACT reception: 8267 4300

As research provides a clearer picture of the virus, advice may change regarding best practice for containment of the virus. While much of the information provided will soon become second nature, new guidance can be expected.

I am attaching resources created and recommended by the Department of Health to guide businesses and individuals, current as of 4 March 2020.   

We recommend that you stay up-to-date and share advice with your communities provided by reliable government sources; Department of Health and in NSW – NSW Health.

What is a coronavirus and COVID-19?

Coronaviruses can make humans and animals sick. Some coronaviruses can cause illness similar to the common cold and others can cause more serious diseases, including Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS). This new coronavirus originated in Hubei Province, China and the disease outbreak is named COVID-19.

Who is most at risk of a serious illness?

Some people who are infected may not get sick at all, some will get mild symptoms from which they will recover easily, and others may become very ill, very quickly. 

From previous experience with other coronaviruses, the people at most risk of serious infection are:   

  • people with compromised immune systems, such as people with cancer
  • elderly people
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people
  • very young children and babies, and
  • people with diagnosed chronic medical conditions.

How is this coronavirus spread?

The coronavirus is most likely to spread from person-to-person through:   

  • direct close contact with a person while they are infectious
  • close contact with a person with a confirmed infection who coughs or sneezes,
  • touching objects or surfaces (such as door handles or tables) contaminated from a cough or sneeze from a person with a confirmed infection, and then touching your mouth or face. 

Most infections are only transmitted by people when they have symptoms. These can include fever, a cough, sore throat, tiredness and shortness of breath.

Hygiene

Practising good hand and sneeze/cough hygiene is the best defence against most viruses.

You should: 

  • wash your hands frequently with soap and water, before and after eating, and after going to the toilet
  • cover your cough and sneeze, dispose of tissues, and use alcohol-based hand sanitiser
  • if unwell, avoid contact with others (touching, kissing, hugging, and other intimate contact). Wipe surfaces of workplaces and shared spaces frequently 

 

 

This provides those considered by Communicable Disease Network Australia (CDNA) to pose a risk of transmission to travelers arriving in Australia.

This list will be updated regularly as the COVID-19 outbreak evolves. https://www1.health.gov.au/internet/main/publishing.nsf/Content/ohp-covid-19-countries.htm

The list is based on the risk of the person having been exposed to COVID-19 due to travel to a country and region with sustained community transmission and/or based on the patterns of travel between those countries and regions and Australia, and/or the other epidemiological evidence.

It is based upon the best available evidence at the time of completion. As of 04 March 2020, the Australian Government considers the following countries to be at higher risk for COVID-19:

  • Mainland China
  • Iran
  • Italy
  • South Korea

If you are returning from these countries, you need to monitor your health for the next 14 days.

If you are returning from mainland China or Iran you should self-isolate for 14 days. 

If you are returning from Italy or South Korea, and you work as a healthcare worker or as a residential aged care worker, you should not attend your regular work for 14 days.

The current advice lists these countries as a moderate risk: Cambodia, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Singapore and Thailand.

If you are a traveler or think you may have been in close contact with a confirmed case of coronavirus, special restrictions apply to you. You must isolate yourself, which means you stay at home and do not attend public places, including work, school, childcare or university. 

For the daily updated, latest advice on who needs to isolate, go to www.health.nsw.gov.au and download the documents attached for 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. 

To help limit the spread of coronavirus, you must isolate yourself in the following circumstances: 

  • If you have left, or transited through, mainland China in the last 14 days you must isolate yourself for 14 days from the date of leaving mainland China.
  • If you have left, or transited through Iran on or after 1 March, you must isolate yourself until 14 days after leaving Iran.
  • If you have been in close contact with a confirmed case of coronavirus, you must isolate yourself for 14 days from the date of last contact with the confirmed case. 

Note: Department of Health is currently providing up to date advice about country travel bans, extension to bans and travel warnings. Before travelling overseas consult www.smartraveller.gov.au/ 

 

  • People who must isolate need to stay at home and must not attend public places, in particular work, school, childcare or university.
  • Only people who usually live in the household should be in the home. 
  • Do not allow visitors into the home.
  • Where possible, get others such as friends or family who are not required to be isolated to get food or other necessities for you.
  • If you must leave the home, such as to seek medical care, wear a mask if you have one.
  • For more information visit https://www.health.gov.au/resources/collections/novel-coronavirus-2019-ncov-resources 

If you develop symptoms (fever, a cough, sore throat, tiredness or shortness of breath) within 14 days of leaving mainland China or Iran, or within 14 days of last contact of a confirmed case, you should arrange to see your doctor for urgent assessment.  

You should telephone the health clinic or hospital before you arrive and tell them your travel history or that you may have been in contact with a potential case of coronavirus. You must remain isolated either in your home or a healthcare setting until public health authorities inform you it is safe for you to return to your usual activities. 

There is no specific treatment for coronaviruses. Antibiotics are not effective against viruses. Most of the symptoms can be treated with supportive medical care. 

 

You do not need to wear a mask if you are healthy. While the use of masks can help to prevent transmission of disease from infected patients to others, masks are not currently recommended for use by healthy members of the public for the prevention of infections like coronavirus. 

  • For the latest advice, information and resources, go to www.health.nsw.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. 

Yours in Christ, 

Jane Fry