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Fighting fear with facts - ECU's experts give their takes on COVID-19

Wednesday, 06 May 2020


As the world struggles to deal with the myriad implications of the unfolding COVID-19 crisis, ECU's world-class experts have some practical tips and opinions across a variety of topics related to the crisis.

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Wake App Australia - COVIDSafe cyber concerns are unwarranted

Professor Craig Valli, Director, ECU Security Research Institute

"The release of Australia's COVIDSafe tracing app has generated a maelstrom of irrational responses to the cyber security and privacy aspects of the app fuelled by selective ignorance. If you already use a smartphone you have largely given up your privacy already"

"We routinely trust a multitude of smartphone applications built by multinational technology companies, and plenty of less savoury operators, which track, monitor and sell our information to any organisation or foreign government with a few dollars."

"So who would Australians rather be? The person who cared enough to share limited information appropriately for the protection of their family, friends and neighbours for a brief period of time and within reasonable limits? Or a very private, very dead individual potentially responsible for spreading a deadly virus among their loved ones and the community?"

Much more attention needs to be given to coaches

Dr Craig Harms, Clinical Psychologist, expert in the psychology of sport

“Finishing a football career once is tough enough, particularly when the career is shortened due to injury as was the case for Dean Laidley. But coaches have to do it all again when their coaching career comes to an end. It is this context that the AFL needs to do much more when coaches finish their careers.”

Changing face of community sport

Professor Dawn Penney, Professorial Research Fellow in the School of Education, leading research into the value of informal sport

“Only in time will we know the full economic impact of COVID-19 on sporting clubs. Moving forward, community sport may look quite different. Traditional seasonal patterns of facility use are being challenged and clubs are under pressure to keep costs down. To support sustained community-wide participation, local governments may need to expand the space available for informal activity alongside club sport.”

Sport gives teens a sense of belonging

Dr John O’Rourke, Senior Lecturer School of Education

“For many teenagers organised sport provides them with high levels of meaning and purpose. Not only is the physical activity good for their mental health, but it provides them with real connections with others who are like-minded and who understand them. It provides structure to a world that can seem confusing, and training and games can provide clear markers for their weeks. But most importantly, for many teenagers engaging in sport is about creating a sense of belonging, and prolonged exclusion from this may create feelings of being lost and directionless.”

Cancer care during COVID-19

Associate Professor Deborah Kirk, expert in oncology nursing

“As a community we have done the right thing by adhering to the government recommendations of good hygiene, social distancing, and staying at home ceasing all unnecessary travel to help protect the vulnerable, or immunocompromised, such as someone living with cancer.  For the oncology community it has impacted the way we practice from the use of personal protective equipment, to how we engage with our patients through alternative methods such as telehealth.  As the pandemic has rapidly evolved and recommendations changed with new evidence, I found myself focusing on the here and now, which often overshadowed the psychosocial aspects of care.

“The psychosocial needs of someone living with cancer has been extensively studied and a valued part of cancer care.  Often it may be overlooked because it is the ‘unseen’ aspect of an individual or because there is a need to focus on the immediate problem. During this time of pandemic, I challenge us, as health professionals, to consider and evaluate the psychological, biological and social functioning and the availability of supports for those living with cancer.”

Post-pandemic challenges for hospitality

Dr Edmund Goh, hospitality workforce expert

“Disruption to the hospitality industry was happening pre-COVID-19 but has been accelerated. In the future, I foresee service disruptions and automations becoming the new norm with technologies such as robotics to offer a new innovative service experience. Job competition for Generation Z will intensify and pay rates cut so hospitality workers must adapt, innovate and focus on the skills only they can provide – exceptional customer service.”

Smart health homes could be the future

Dr Dana Dermody, remote health monitoring expert

“While we’ve seen an upsurge in the use of telehealth services during this pandemic, there’s an opportunity to expand in-home health care for our elderly and vulnerable. ‘Smart health homes’ combine artificial intelligence technology and in-home sensors to help health professionals provide vital health care to the elderly and those with chronic health conditions who may still be in isolation for some time.”

Working life and technology

Working from home? Tips to boost your cyber-hygiene

Associate Professor Paul Haskell-Dowland, Associate Dean for Computing and Security

Just as the public are getting to grips with the Coronavirus fallout, cyber criminals are taking advantage of the wave of fear. Just as we are directed to follow social-distancing and good personal hygiene to combat infection; users can effectively defend themselves with simple measures for cyber hygiene. Read more here

Virtual business etiquette and authentic connectedness in a world of social distancing

Dr Nathalie Collins, marketing and management expert

“When Stephen King imagined a global pandemic, he got some things right: the disruption to everyday life, the panic, and the uncertainty in the future.  However, he certainly didn’t imagine the stress of bringing a workforce into an entirely virtual environment. With intent more easily misunderstood and physical proximity no longer a consideration, let’s explore a world of digital authenticity and human connectedness in a world of social distancing.”

Can our home Internet cope with the increased demand?

Dr James Kang, computing and security researcher

“We have seen an increase in network usage as people are responding to COVID-19 by spending more time at home and working or studying remotely. This includes both adults and their children as usage of internet traffic such as online streaming for recreation (Netflix, YouTube), and work or study-related tasks such as video conferencing and lecture streaming and transfer of files has increased.

“This situation has placed greater demand and stress on our current network infrastructure, affecting bandwidth availability and leaving little opportunities for maintenance activities such as planned downtimes and outages.

“Thus, it will depend on people's approach and the level of uptake in lifestyle choices and working from home to forecast if the network can cope with the demand, as network capacity is not able to respond quickly to these changing circumstances.”

Flexible work can benefit employers and employees

Professor Tim Bentley – remote working and wellbeing expert and Associate Dean (Research) in the School of Business and Law

“Working remotely, usually from home, is a necessary business continuity approach for knowledge workers.  Research has shown flexible work arrangements can benefit employee productivity and wellbeing.  However, these benefits will only be realised when it is well planned and effectively supported by organisations.”

Business survival

Boom or bust: the impacts of the COVID-19 crisis on the gig economy

Professor Kerry Brown, employment, industry and innovation expert

“The COVID-19 health crisis has spilled over into an economic crisis. The economic effects create extreme vulnerabilities for workers in the gig economy. Gig workers have no access to sick pay, holiday pay or any of the rights and entitlements of employees and when their hours are reduced, so is their pay.

“Those gig economy businesses relying on face-to-face interaction like share riding will be severely hit. However, those less heavily reliant such as uber eats and home deliveries may create a boon for gig economy workers. Trusted source products and health safety protocols such as disinfecting vehicles, handwashing, sanitising will go a long way to assist building confidence in doing business with gig businesses.”

Desperately seeking toilet paper? Relief is on the way

Dr Flavio Romero Macau, Senior Lecturer in Supply Chain Management and Global Logistics

“When will the panic buying stop and supermarkets get back to normal? The good news: well before the coronavirus crisis is over. Manufacturers, suppliers and transporters – all profit-driven – are moving to answer the call. Locally made products will hit the shelves in two or three weeks. For those made overseas, it may be a three month wait.” MORE

Small businesses will face a new coronavirus threat

Professor Pi-Shen Seet, entrepreneurship and innovation expert

“Small and micro businesses account for 35 per cent of Australia’s gross domestic profit and employ 44 per cent of Australia’s workforce. They often have net income well below the average Australian wage with more than half reporting earnings between $0 and $25,000 per annum. As such, they do not normally have the resources to deal with severe external shocks like that of COVID-19.

“Small businesses are vulnerable to challenges such as supply chain shock, access to finance and late payments. Many will struggle to remain viable and require collaborative support of industry associations, government and fellow businesses to help weather the impending storm.”

Our local farmers need us right now

Dr Stephanie Godrich, nutrition expert

“It’s more important now than ever before to support our local farmers and food businesses. This is a great opportunity to cook some healthy, delicious and comforting meals together. Food can be very nurturing, and self-care is very important to prioritise at this stressful time.”

Cashing in on COVID-19 isn't cool

Dr Mehran Nejati – corporate social responsibility and business sustainability expert

“There is nothing wrong in seeking profit for a business. But cashing in on other people’s misfortune and shouting it from the rooftops isn't ethical. That’s right – we’re talking about you, Gerry Harvey.”

Society’s response to the crisis

Social media can amplify panic buying

Dr Violetta Wilk, social media and marketing expert

#coronavirus #coronavirusau and #toiletpapergate are the current top trending topics on social media. People are increasingly turning to their social media networks for updates and information on what’s happening in other countries. This has led to more panic buying, creating chronic shortages of many grocery, home maintenance and entertainment items.

Reconnecting with spirituality in a crisis

Dr Greg Willson, hospitality and tourism expert

“COVID-19 is undoubtedly causing significant upheaval – borders are closed, social distancing has become central to our vocabulary, markets are spiralling and anxiety is high. The crisis is also fuelling a deep reconnection with our spirituality. Specifically, we are being shocked into asking fundamental questions about what is meaningful to us, and are seeking different ways to connect – with ourselves, others and, for some, a Higher Power. This is a time of deep personal growth and where our values become visible. Some people are shining through reaching out to support the vulnerable, while others are acting primarily in self-preservation.”

Discrimination against Chinese must be addressed

Dr Jun Wen, Chinese tourism expert

“The rapid spread of the coronavirus from China to the world has naturally led to fear and panic in every society, which can cause irrational and even illegal behaviours. Vast misconceptions and misreporting in the media such as the “Chinese virus pandemonium” have spurred discrimination. If these misconceptions aren’t addressed, we may start seeing mental health issues related to social isolation, racial discrimination and unequal treatment.”

Taking the panic out of pandemic

Associate Professor Erin Smith, disaster response expert

“While this is scary, it’s important to remember that the virus is only causing clinically serious illness in around five per cent of those it has infected, and the 1-2 per cent of people who have died from coronavirus have generally been the elderly with co-morbid illnesses,” Professor Smith said.

“We have a unique window of opportunity at the moment to educate the public in order for them to remain alert and aware, but not alarmed.” more

When a pandemic strikes in year 12

Associate Professor Joanne Dickson - expert in mental health, well-being and motivation

“Anxiety levels often soar in Year 12, however with the current COVID-19 crisis students are likely to be feeling even more stressed. A key feature of anxiety is uncertainty and fear about the future. However, with most ‘threats’ there are also opportunities, such as developing new skills and the prospect for personal growth. Students should keep sight of their long-term goal aspirations. Focusing on the immediate threat can preoccupy their thoughts, increase anxiety and derail them in striving towards long-term goals.”

United in the face of a common threat

Dr Eyal Gringart, expert social psychologist

“The uncertainty in the face of COVID-19 as well as the lack of clear and explicit communications from leadership about detailed plans for and clear measures by which the pandemic will be managed leave us feeling that we must fend for ourselves and protect our loved ones. Fearing that the country will come to a halt and that we best stay well away from one another push people to stock up and ready themselves for the worse.”

“Telling people not to worry does little to reassure them and stating that measures will be in place as things unfold only increases anxiety. It is better to be informed than to be protected from panic by being kept ignorant. It is an opportune time for leadership to shine and for our community to show its true colours of mateship and care for each other. United, we can see this pandemic through.”

Health and wellbeing

Keeping rhythms for keeping well

Dr Sue McCabe – sleep and occupational therapy expert

“Sleep is fundamental to our health and wellbeing but with many of us merging work, school and home life, our daily rhythms are easily disrupted. Good sleep relies on consistency of daily routines and environments. Cues that trigger our senses are important. The rhythms of smells, sounds, light, temperature, movement and certain activities all play an active role in signalling the time of day to our body. When this rhythm is disturbed, it can impact our wellbeing, our performance and our sleep.”

Beware of the extra glass or two during virtual happy hour

Dr Julie Dare, expert in older people’s alcohol use

“This period of social distancing can increase a sense of isolation and loneliness, particularly for people living alone. Many people are using the virtual happy hour to bridge the gap. However, older adults in particular need to be aware of potential health risks. At-risk drinking among older women has increased over the last 10 years, and our research with a sample of older women in Perth and the South Western Australia found 30 per cent drank every day.”

“With a recent survey finding that 70 per cent of Australians increased their alcohol consumption during March, it’s important to encourage older friends and relatives to minimise alcohol-related health risks by alternating alcohol with water, regularly including alcohol-free days throughout the week, and talking with their GP if they have concerns about their alcohol use.”

Mental health advice for new mums

Dr Janette Brooks – expert in perinatal mental health

“The transition to motherhood is a time of increased risk for mental illness, with one in five women experiencing perinatal anxiety or depression in Australia. Although we do not yet know what the impact of COVID-19 will be on the prevalence of perinatal mental illness, one can assume that due to an increase in many of the known risk factors (e.g. lack of extended family support, social isolation, financial stress) there will also be an increase in families being affected by perinatal anxiety and depression in 2020.”

“Access to support from GPs and Psychologists has been made easier recently with the introduction of Medicare items for Telehealth. However, in addition to professional support, it’s important that women ask for help from their partner when needed, reach out and connect with other mums online and by phone regularly, and make time for themselves.”

Greenspaces in a time of COVID-19

Professor Pierre Horwitz - Sustainability and environmental health expert

"Access to greenspaces help to reduce stress and restore attention and health. We also know that our thinking improves: cognitive function and health associated with being more contemplative and mindful of our surroundings is heightened by a walk in the park."

"For some the home garden is a more than adequate greenspaces, and the activity of gardening conveys much the same benefits. For those who can’t go outside regularly, opening windows for a few hours, maintaining indoor plants in the home, and even having a view onto greenery like suburban trees or lawn, are all known to make you feel better."

Childbirth in the COVID-19 world

Associate Professor Sara Bayes – midwifery expert

“Many Australian hospitals are restricting visitors and other countries have moved to banning women's partners and support people from birthing rooms. This situation is fraught as it’s creating anxiety and feelings of isolation for women. The importance of midwives has never been greater as a trusted source of support, especially psychologically and emotionally, during this stressful period.”

Shop wisely and plan your meals

Professor Amanda Devine – nutrition and food literacy expert

“Social isolation provides new challenges around food access, choice and preparation. Plan a weekly menu and include lots of nutritious foods to support your immunity and overall health. Fresh is best but dried or tinned vegetables, beans and lentils are great at stretching meals out and providing additional nutrients.”

Closing bottle shops would do more harm than good

Dr Stephen Bright – psychologist and addiction expert

“Some have questioned why bottle shops have been classified as an “essential service” with growing concerns about increased alcohol consumption as social isolation requirements escalate. If bottle shops were to close, then hundreds-of-thousands of Australians could go into life threatening alcohol withdrawal. This would add increasing pressure to already stretched healthcare services and lead to many unnecessary deaths.”

Children and Families

Childcare changes welcomed

Professor Caroline Barratt-Pugh - Director of the Centre for Research in Early Childhood

“Free childcare is a significant move forward in supporting families through the current situation, as children and families are particularly vulnerable during this time. Child care educators will play an important role in helping essential workers to do their job knowing their children are flourishing in an early learning environment.

“However it is important that child care centres are adequately resourced to maintain safety standards for cleaning, hygiene and social distancing during contact with parents.This initiative should be extended to all families and continued after the current crisis in order to ensure our children continue to grow and learn and the workforce is re-built.”

What can we learn from home schoolers?

Dr Kate Burton, Education Research, Adjunct Academic (Education)

“Provide a space to answer questions and allow lots of opportunities for creativity, spending time in nature, and physical activity to ground little nervous systems. Instead of worrying about adhering to the curriculum, follow your child’s interests and take advantage of the plethora of free online resources that are currently being made available by some wonderful educators. Highlight the value of these community heroes to encourage gratitude in children, and emphasis how their contributions are bringing joy to so many people.”

Helping children be less anxious about the future

Dr Bronwyn Harman, families expert, Senior Lecturer (Psychology)

“The recent COVID-19 pandemic has caused anxiety among many sectors of the community. While such a pandemic would normally be cause for greater levels of anxiety, we need to remember that for many people in Australia, this is compounded by the recent bushfires and floods that saw many communities decimated. We are seeing increased numbers of children with high levels of anxiety, and one of our duties, as a society, is to help children be less afraid of an uncertain future.”

Caring for elderly and vulnerable

Tips for seniors to stick with exercises at home

Associate Professor of Psychology Joanne DicksonExpert in mental health, well-being and goal motivation

“It’s important for seniors to continue to exercise during these challenging times, and creating routine in everyday life is key to sticking with it. To help seniors stay motivated remember to keep in mind desired outcomes, set specific goals, reward yourself and be kind to yourself.” more

Spare a thought for grandparents raising their grandchildren

Dr David Coall, expert in grandparenting and grandparents raising their grandchildren

“Spare a thought for grandparents who are raising their grandchildren. Taking the responsibilities of parents, being further socially isolated by the virus, getting kids ready for school when the dedicated shopping hours are open, and often relying on a low income, means this is a perfect storm for grandparents who are raising their own grandchildren. This is a time to take care of others in our society for who COVID-19 represents one more challenge they need to meet in their daily lives.”

How the elderly can stay active during quarantine

Professor Ken Nosaka, exercise science expert specialising in older people

“With the elderly and vulnerable being advised to stay at home during the COVID-19 crisis, the importance of staying active as never been greater. Older people in particular are at risk of physical decline, and a lack of regular exercise could lead to a litany of problems including reduced muscle strength, coordination, balance, flexibility and mobility, and decreased cardiovascular and respiratory functions, all of which can make people more susceptible to ill health.

“The home could be an ideal place for exercises to make all people, including older people, healthier and fitter and improve immune function to reduce the risk of COVID-19 infection. Some quick and easy exercises can be done from the comfort of home requiring no equipment and just a bit of motivation.”

Switching grandparents onto the internet

Dr David Cook, lecturer in cyber security

“Most older people have a strong desire and drive to understand and engage with the Internet. Using the right words and breaking down terms to avoid techno jargon is the key to basic security for older people using online systems.

“Simple descriptions that use acronyms or words with double meanings and ambiguous connotations work best. Use phrases like Virtual Private Network instead of VPN, so that everyone can more easily understand the different layers between secure online and the unsecure environments. Older people may also assign dismissive attitudes towards words and acronyms that they consider to be silly, or made up, such as phishing or cookies.”

Tackling loneliness in a social distancing world

Associate Professor Mandy Stanley, occupational therapy expert specialising in loneliness and older people

“There is growing evidence that loneliness is a major risk factor for ill health such as cardiovascular disease, as much as smoking and too much sedentary behaviour. To manage loneliness people need to connect socially and share activities with others. The policy of social distancing as a response to the COVID19 virus poses challenges to maintaining social connection particularly for older people and risks increasing loneliness.

“We need to be looking out for older people in the community, making sure they have access to essential supplies and checking in with people more regularly by phone. For all ages, having a range of things to do in the home that are enjoyable and a change from tv watching such as crafts, art, jigsaws, word games, board games, sorting through family photos, family history research, clearing out the wardrobe before winter or miniature gardens, can help to relieve boredom and social isolation.”

Exercise more important than ever, especially for cancer patients

Professor Rob Newton, exercise medicine expert and WA Scientist of the Year

“It is absolutely critical that cancer patients exercise on most if not every day to maintain their health, help fight the disease and manage treatment side-effects.

“However, research indicates the incidence and severity of COVID-19 is higher in cancer patients, particularly those that are older. Patients urgently need home-based exercise programs developed to support them in self isolation.”

Arts and literature

Creativity in isolation

Associate Professor Cathy Henkel,Director of WA Screen Academy at ECU and independent filmmaker

“Self-isolation could be a rare and important opportunity to focus on the core elements of creativity. For film students that means watching all the documentary films you’ve been meaning to watch, reading books, writing scripts, getting ahead of assignments, and reflecting on their area of study. Taking the time to pause, reflect, read, research and investigate new ideas can be done isolation and with minimal human contact.”

Get your booklist ready

Dr Donna Mazza, Creative Writing Lecturer and author

“With writers festivals and launch events being cancelled because of coronavirus, Australian authors and sales of their books will be severely impacted.  To counteract this loss of income, it’s the best time to buy the work of Australian writers, especially new release novels that depend on festivals and public readings to get the word out to their audience. A list of fine Australian fiction to read in the time of COVID-19 is the best medicine, and a virtual holiday from the real world.”


Even the most stoic of elite athletes could be vulnerable to mental illness during COVID-19

Dr Craig Harms, Clinical Psychologist and expert in the psychology of sport

“By their nature, most elite athletes who play competitive and combative “invasion sports” like AFL, Rugby League, and Rugby (Union) are pretty stoic. They train hard for long periods of time. They experience hard hits as well as adversity like medium to long-term injuries.

“However, the most stoic of these athletes, as well as the more vulnerable athletes are likely to be at greater risk of really ‘struggling’ with their well-being and mental health the longer the COVID-19 outbreak continues or if their season is cancelled.”

Goal shaped hole in your winter weekends

Professor Dawn Penney, Professorial Research Fellow in the School of Education, leading research into the value of informal sport

“Many people (not just the elite) are experiencing cancellation of competitions and events that are central to their regular participation in sport. This will be a time for creative thinking about alternative ways to stay active through more informal physical activity and sport, while following the advice to the public about ways to protect personal and community health.

“Thankfully, at present many outdoor spaces are still accessible for people to walk, run, bike and community facilities including gyms remain open with additional measures being taken in response to COVID19. Informal sport will undoubtedly be key to many people maintaining participation and their wellbeing. Apps used for physical activity tracking and connections to fellow participants will be an increasingly important avenue for personal motivation and social connection around sport at this time.

“Amidst cancelled seasons or events, and uncertainty about when races and competitions will be back, many people may feel in limbo and that re-focusing is hard. But it is a time to take the positives, use time to build on other aspects of your fitness that you may not otherwise prioritise (such as flexibility) and keep training in the ways you can.”

Benefits of community sport

Dr Ashlee Morgan, sporting marketing researcher from the School of Business and Law

“Community sport clubs provide much more than opportunities for individual physical and mental health benefits. They are instrumental in the development of social capital and social cohesion within communities.

“Sport and recreation clubs are often the hub of community life, particularly in regional areas. They bring people together through shared experiences and create an important sense of belonging. As local clubs are closing their doors, the social impact will be felt broadly through the community.”

Threat to Olympics

Rescheduling the Tokyo Olympics:

Professor Greg Haff, Professor of Strength and Conditioning and the High Performance Sport Scientist on the Australian Weightlifting Federation’s High Performance Commission

“Olympic athletes spend numerous years training to achieve peak performances at a targeted Olympic Games. The programs are finely crafted and designed to elevate performance capacity at this specific time. If the Tokyo Olympics are moved their ability to achieve peak performance can be compromised due to peaking performances at the wrong time.

“This may be avoided if the International Olympic Committee does not wait to the last moment and provides a specific date for the games. Athlete and their coaches could reorient their training in order to peak at the new date of competition. If, however, the Tokyo Olympics are rescheduled at the last moment, athletes are at risk of peaking too soon and having to re-establish fitness prior to competing at the new competition dates for the Games.”


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