If the World Health Organisation declares a pandemic, or suggests you need we need to prepare for one, what do you do?

First of all, and most importantly, don't panic. While the term pandemic can sound scary, it doesn't mean you'll see a Hollywood apocalyptic scenario play out. Depending on the virus and fatality rate, many people who become infected may show few symptoms, and many are likely to survive.

However, depending on the scale of the pandemic, there can be interruptions to supply chains and economic repercussions. Children may be asked to stay home from school to avoid the spread of the disease, and places of business may temporarily close down. People might decide to stock up on essentials all at the same time, which could leave supermarkets out of stock.

It is worth being prepared so that you can be comfortable staying home if you or someone in your family does get sick and needs to remain in isolation, or if you're unable to easily purchase supplies at short notice.

Should I stock up for a local outbreak?

For most of us, the distinction between a wide-reaching epidemic and a full-blown pandemic is rather trivial. Far from being a matter of severity or mortality rates, or even the number of infections, terms defining the different kinds of outbreak have more to do with carefully calculated risks of continued spread.

For individual citizens, an uncontained local outbreak demands our attention just as much as a serious pandemic. The precautions we need to take when infectious disease puts our community's health at risk are really little different to those we should be taking every single day.

If nothing else, the threat of a pandemic means it's a good time to refresh our memories and take action.

What should I do before a pandemic is declared?

On a national level, different countries will usually have their own policies and public health programs to contain pandemics and protect their citizens from infection, either targeting specific threats or by issuing general advice.

The WHO provides detailed recommendations targeting ways authorities and individuals can contain the spread of a potential pandemic. This advice is often adapted by governments and health agencies around the world to suit differences in culture and lifestyle.

While we recommend you read up on your local authority's guidelines, here are some smart ideas to discuss with friends, family, and your personal doctor:

  • Make a plan of what you'll do if you or someone in your family falls sick. Will you keep kids at home with you? Who will look after you? Your pets?

  • Prepare for disruption to the kinds of services that are most vulnerable in your community - experts suggest stocking up on two weeks of drinking water and preserved food. The rule of thumb is around 3.7 litres (1 gallon) of clean drinking water per person per day for cleaning, cooking, and drinking. Canned foods and a manual can opener could be helpful. Buy things you know you'll eat, including snacks, protein, carbs, fruits, and vegetables. Don't forget pet food if you have animals to take care of. There's no need to be excessive or hoard supplies, you can simply buy a few extra items each time you go to the supermarket.

  • Have ready access to necessary medical records and details on your personal health needs, if possible in a hard copy.

  • Ensure essential prescription drugs are topped up.

  • While you're at it, check your first aid kit and make sure you've got a good supply of non-prescription medications - ibuprofen and paracetamol could make you feel a lot less sick if you do become unwell. Note: aspirin is not recommended to be used on children with a fever.

  • Stock up on cleaning supplies, as well as sanitisers and tissues.

  • If a suitable vaccine is publicly available and recommended by local health authorities, get jabbed.

What do we do in the middle of a pandemic?

When disease breaks out in your neighbourhood, you should already be practising good hygiene. It shouldn't take a pandemic to prevent a pandemic.

Here's some tips:

  • Cover your mouth and nose when you sneeze and cough, preferably with a tissue you can then discard hygienically, or with your elbow.

  • If you choose to wear a face mask, keep in mind its effect depends on the type of mask, and is probably not as effective at protecting you (or others) as you might think.

  • Wash your hands properly and frequently, preferably with an alcohol-based sanitiser.

  • If you get sick, do everything you can to avoid passing it on to work colleagues, community members, and loved ones. Isolate yourself if possible, and if you need to be out, do your best to keep your hands to yourself, and stay at least 3 metres (9.8 feet) away from other bodies. This is when wearing a mask can be useful - if you do need to go out in public, wearing a mask can stop droplets reaching others.


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