Covid-19 Pandemic: Community readiness is as important as health system preparedness

It is reassuring to see hospitals and other healthcare providers swinging into action to prepare for a possible pandemic.  Health system preparedness is vital, but we shouldn’t overlook the equally important task of helping the general public to get ready.

Hospitals are likely to be overwhelmed very quickly if large numbers of people start to present with a suspected infection. It is therefore very important that we support people to make good decisions as to what they should do in their own interest as well as allowing their local healthcare providers to focus on caring for those with life-threatening illness.

At times like this we shouldn’t underestimate the role that our relatives and friendship networks can have.  Notwithstanding the need to minimise close personal contact our friends, relatives and neighbours can do a range of simple things for those of us who become unwell.

We could:

  • Commit to making regular check-in phone calls to those who are unwell
  • Offer to do some grocery shopping which we can drop off at someone’s front door
  • Perhaps pick up and drop off medicines
  • Offer to look after their pets
  • Take out the rubbish bins on collection days
  • Make an occasional meal for an unwell neighbour
  • Encourage people to take the advice of local health authorities about when and how to seek healthcare if they become very unwell


It would seem that the nature of this pandemic will see many with mild to moderate illness not requiring hospitalisation.  This means that there will be a lot of people with a Covid-19 like infection who will be advised to stay at home and self-care. This is where we have opportunity to support our relatives, friends and neighbours in very practical but useful ways.  At times like this we need to be able to rely on each other.

The US (CDC) Centre for Disease Control has resources for those assuming responsibility for readying their community for a pandemic.  Local councils can take a leadership role in community readiness in conjunction with our regional health system managers.

We need to give special attention to those of us who are socially isolated including the frail elderly living alone.  One of the lessons from Hurricane Katrina in America was that this is the group that are most vulnerable at times of disasters. Many General Practices in Australia maintain registers for “patients of concern” and it is these people who we should be particularly interested in.