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The 8 Things You Can Do To Prepare For A Coronavirus Pandemic

Speaking to three public health experts -- who all stress that panic buying is not necessary -- 10 daily has put together a list of how to be prepared, but not alarmed.

It comes as Scott Morrison announced a coronavirus emergency response plan for Australia.

The resounding advice -- from both government and independent global infection experts -- is Australians should not descend on local supermarkets and empty shelves in a doomsday shopping mania.

However, there are some practical and small steps that can be taken to help prepare should the World Heath Organisation dub the coronavrius outbreak a pandemic, or if the rate of infections (or deaths) increase on our shores.

Soap and hand sanitisers

The least expensive and most effective protection from coronavirus is hand hygiene. This is one thing all experts we spoke to agreed on.

"Hand washing is the cheapest and most productive thing you can do," University of New South Wales global biosecurity expert Raina MacIntyre told 10 daily.

She said soap and hand sanitiser are equally effective.

"If you're out and about you can use hand sanitiser, at home and work soap works well, and wash thoroughly," McIntyre said.

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Dr Trent Yarwood, an infectious diseases physician from the University of Queensland says changing hand to face habits is also crucial.

"You almost need to re-train the mind and avoid natural instincts like coughing into your hands, or casually touch your eyes and mouth," he said.

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Prescription medication and supplements

While there are no current shortages or shipment delays of pharmaceutical products, Yarwood says it is not unreasonable to visit your pharmacist and top up your scripts to ensure you have at least a couple of week's worth.

This includes things like blood pressure pills, asthma relief inhalers, antidepressants and insulin.

"This will help you be prepared if you get sick and need to be quarantined or if the global supply chain gets disrupted."

He also suggests doing the same for elderly or less mobile friends and relatives.

Frozen vegetables and canned fruit

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In order to get a balanced diet should you need to self-quarantine, Yarwood says there are cheap ways of doing this.

Frozen vegetables, canned fruit and vegetables are worth keeping in your freezer and pantry.

"While there may be a supply impact on fresh fruit and vegetables, it is more likely to become an issue when you have to quarantine or there are movements restricted," he said.

However, beyond good hand hygiene, McIntyre does not believe stocking up on food sends the right public health message.

"Giving this sort of advice often just encourages panic buying," she said.

Toilet paper and nappies

Associate Professor Ian Mackay from the University of Queensland has put together a list of what he deems the most important things to consider should a pandemic hit.

Mackay told 10 daily he thinks the government and public health officials are being too cautious in their messaging around preparedness.

"Sure we don't want people to go overboard and start hoarding, but you can be smart and sensible and add things to a box which is essentially your pandemic stash," he said.

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He says nappies, sanitary items and toilet paper are staple items that are easy to forget.

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Baby food and pet food

Another reason to stock up on certain products now (beyond fears of shortages in supply or disturbances to deliver) is to practise what experts call social distancing. This means staying away from crowds or public places if you are sick or many people in your area contract the virus.

Image: Getty Images

"We don’t know for certain how severe a COVID-19 pandemic will be. We may be able to assume it’s a mild or perhaps moderate pandemic, not a severe one, according to definitions in the Australian Health Management Plan for Pandemic Influenza scenarios, but we won’t know for sure," Mackay said.

Loved ones come in all shapes and sizes -- so whether you have a young family or a furry family -- buying dry and tinned food for them should also be considered.

For pets this may extend to litter tray liners and anti-flea drops.

Pasta and rice

Think about adding enough nonperishable foods to your pantry to carry you through for a couple of weeks, is the advice both Yarwood and Mackay give. But, again, it is not necessary to buy copious amounts of things.

"When you are at the grocery store next, it would not hurt to get a couple of extra cans or packets of rice," Mackay said.

This also extends to products like cereals, grains, beans and lentils.

"A meal like pasta can feed a whole family and doesn't require too many fresh ingredients," he said.

Paracetamol and hydrating liquids

"Having paracetamol at home or an anti-inflammatory is very reasonable to consider, but again you don't need to buy in bulk," Mackay said.

These products will help manage virus symptoms like fevers. Both Yarwood and Mackay suggest that products that replenish and hydrate are also handy to have, whether they are sports drinks or sachets you can mix with water for adults or children.

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Be up to date on your vaccinations

Yarwood suggests visiting your GP or pharmacist and seeing if there are any  leftover vaccines from last year's flu season.

"Make sure you are up to date with your vaccinations, we are seeing people die overseas of co-infections. So if you have the flu, for example, then you are more susceptible of contracting a secondary illness like coronavirus," he said.

If no flu vaccines remain, he says to be sure to get this year's flu shot.

Contact the author: alattouf@networkten.com.au