Aside from Western Australia having to deal with its first COVID cases in months, thanks to infected crew members from a ship off the coast of Port Hedland, this week’s case numbers across the country have been pleasingly positive.
But if that is making you feel a bit better about the situation in the country, the latest findings with regard to testing may temper your enthusiasm.
A Monash University study has revealed the extent to which Australians with cold and flu-like symptoms are shunning the testing process and, worse still, carrying on with life as normal while they are potentially infectious.
According to the results from the Survey of COVID-19 Responses to Understand Behaviour (SCRUB) project, more than a third of Australians with symptoms spent time in public and one in five attended work in person, despite rampant cases and deaths in Victoria.
The survey, which was conducted between late August and early September, found just 27 per cent of people with symptoms reported getting tested for COVID-19, which was up from 15 per cent in the previous SCRUB survey, but still concerning for health authorities.
A fifth of those with symptoms said they did not get tested because they didn’t think they had COVID-19.
However, of those who were symptomatic, almost 20 per cent attended work and more than a third spent time in public, only a third wore a face mask and just a quarter avoided close contact with those they lived with.
Thirteen per cent of participants who did get tested did not stay home while waiting for their results, with 15 per cent of that group stating they didn’t know that it was a requirement.
The survey wasn’t all bad news, with some positive findings regarding health precautions taken by Australians.
A clear majority (81 per cent) reported that they always followed COVID-19 rules and regulations, while compliance with levels of protective behaviours – such as hand washing, wearing face masks and keeping physical distance from people outside of home – stayed the same or increased on the previous survey.
Lead researcher Dr Peter Slattery said people needed to change their behaviour if Australia was going to get the virus under control.
“It’s great to see Australians aren’t becoming complacent and are maintaining personal protective behaviours at a high rate,” he said. “Outbreaks last month in New Zealand and New South Wales, as well as the continued high case numbers in Melbourne, saw most people across Australia do the right thing.
“It is also positive to see that Australians are worrying less about issues compared to the last round of SCRUB, indicating that we feel, as a nation, that we are on the road to recovery.
“What is concerning, however, is that we are still seeing people who have cold and flu-like symptoms either fail to get tested or spend time in the community while symptomatic.
“We cannot have symptomatic people acting as though they don’t have the virus when they simply can’t be sure. That’s one of the ways the virus spreads and it will continue to be an issue unless more people get tested and isolate until they receive a negative result.”
There are also concerns that states that have been reporting good COVID cases numbers are potentially more vulnerable to an outbreak spreading quickly than places like Victoria, where the population has better understood the risks.
Dr Norman Swan told ABC News Breakfast on Tuesday that low testing rates in states that had been considered coronavirus free were going to present a problem in future.
“Western Australia, for example, they have got problems because they have gone back to normal,” Dr Swan said. “That means their reproduction number if they get the virus in is well over one.
“The fuel is on the ground ready for the fire in Western Australia, Queensland and other states.
“They have been lulled in to a false sense of security, testing rates are low and that is the problem, whereas Victoria is much better equipped to come out of this with zero spread because there will be mandatory mask wearing for a while and hopefully tests will stay up.”
Are you worried people will spread the virus by turning up at work while they are displaying COVID-19 symptoms? Have you had a COVID-19 test? Would you get one if you started to display cold or flu-like symptoms?
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