On this page, we’ve compiled some important information about COVID-19, plus some resources and facts you might like to use to raise awareness around water-related issues that have arisen from the pandemic.
What is COVID-19?
COVID-19 is a new strain of coronavirus that was first reported in Wuhan City, China in December 2019. Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that cause respiratory infections. Symptoms of COVID-19 can include fever, cough, sore throat and shortness of breath. Your first port of call for information around COVID-19 should be the Australian Government Department of Health website.
How does COVID-19 spread?
The COVID-19 virus spreads primarily via droplets of saliva when an infected person coughs, sneezes or breathes out, or by droplets of discharge from the nose.
For further reading, The Guardian has published an article on the science of how COVID-19 affects the human body, and the Sydney Morning Herald has published an article on what COVID-19 does to the body and what it’s like to have the illness.
Protecting yourself and others
Deputy Chief Medical Officer Professor Paul Kelly has issued some advice for protecting yourself from COVID-19.
- Wash your hands regularly
- Sneeze into your elbow
- Don’t touch your face
- Practice social distancing
- Stay at home
- Avoid touching things
With the increase in hand-washing, it’s important for the water industry to make sure the message of saving water isn’t lost on the community. For example, washing your hands for 20 seconds doesn’t mean you have to keep the tap running the entire time.
Information for employers
The Australian Government Department of Health has put together an information sheet for employers about COVID-19. It includes information on whether staff should go to work, what precautions to take when cleaning, and how to prevent the spread of coronavirus. Below are some measures and practices organisations can take:
- Domestic and international travel restrictions
- Strict isolation measures for people with or exposed to symptoms
- Flexible working arrangements
- Contingency plans for workplace lock-downs
- Limited exposure to public gatherings and social distancing
- Up-to-date staff contact details for rapid communication
- Heightened hygiene measures
With many employees now working from home, organisations should encourage their staff to keep up healthy habits while practising safe social distancing.
COVID-19 and our drinking water
The COVID-19 virus has not been detected in drinking water. Conventional water treatment methods that use filtration and disinfection, such as those in most municipal drinking water systems, should remove or inactivate the virus that causes COVID-19.
Water utilities continue to operate without interruption to ensure continuous service delivery to their customers. Utilities will also focus on providing support for their staff and proactively managing any health related risks associated with staff, particularly those involved with day-to-day operations.
Australian utilities are now developing business continuity and contingency plans in response to COVID-19 that are in line with State and Territory Government advice. This is to ensure they remain well prepared to continue delivering an essential service and can continue to engage suppliers and contractors who are undertaking critical tasks across their network.
Utilities are also working closely with their customers to ensure they remain connected to their water supplies during this period so they can wash their hands regularly.
We recently published an article on how Australian water utilities are responding to COVID-19. Other resources and links you might find useful for educating the community about the safety of their water include the Water Services Association of Australia’s COVID-19 fact sheet and the Water Environment Federation’s guide to COVID-19 for water professionals.
You might also want to keep the community informed that there is no need to buy bottled water during this pandemic. However, in some towns, bottled water still remains an important option for those people who do not have access to safe water, as this article tells.
Implications for our wastewater network
The World Health Organisation has advised that there is no evidence to date that the COVID-19 virus has been transmitted via sewerage systems with or without wastewater treatment.
The shortage of toilet paper has unfortunately left people looking for alternatives – and flushing them down the toilet. An increasing number of people have been found to be flushing wet wipes, paper towels and newspaper down the toilet. If customers are going to use any sort of wipe or toilet roll alternative, then the advice is to bin them. Toilets are not a bin.
Sydney Water has advised that in the last month alone they have received an increase of 22% in blockages due to non-flushables being found in their network. Similar network challenges are being seen across the country including from Unitywater and Townsville Water in Queensland.
For further reading on sewage issues relating to COVID-19, The Guardian has published an article on how the UK’s sewage system is in danger of gridlock from toilet paper substitutes. And while Americans are sterilising surfaces, The New York Times says the disinfectant wipes and paper towels they’re using are being flushed down the toilet.
Water, sanitation and hygiene
Clean water is the first line of defence in preventing the spread of COVID-19. If there is no access to clean water, the situation could worsen across the world.
In Australia, we are fortunate enough to have access to clean water but the same can’t be said for other countries like India, where clean water is difficult to access. The provision of safe water, sanitation and hygiene is essential to protect health during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The best defence against COVID-19 is soap and clean water.
Responding to community concerns
The outbreak of COVID-19 may be stressful for people. Fear and anxiety about a disease can be overwhelming and cause strong emotions in adults and children. Coping with stress will make you, the people you care about, and your community stronger.
When you share accurate information about COVID-19 you can help make people feel less stressed. Communication is key. Use factual, consistent information to respond to community concerns within your control.
Government policies and responses
Australian Health Protection Principal Committee
The Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) is meeting daily to assess the risk to Australia and recommend public health actions. You can keep on top of their updates here.
Economic Stimulus Package
On 22 March 2020, the Commonwealth Government released the second stage of its economic plan to cushion the economic impact of the coronavirus and help build a bridge to recovery.
A total of $189 billion is being injected into the economy by all arms of Government in order to keep Australians in work and businesses in business.
This includes $17.6 billion for the Government’s first economic stimulus package, $90 billion from the RBA and $15 billion from the Government to deliver easier access to finance, and $66.1 billion in today’s economic support package.
On 30 March, the Government released the third stage of its economic plan with a focus on keeping around 6 million workers employed by providing a $1,500 per fortnight wage subsidy through their employer, before tax. The total value of the package is $130 billion over six months.
The payment will be paid to employers who receive a significant financial hit caused by the coronavirus, for up to six months, for each eligible employee that was on their books on 1 March 2020 and is retained or continues to be engaged by that employer.
State and Territory Governments are working closely with the Commonwealth Government to manage COVID-19 and its effects on Australians. To view the latest updates in your state or territory, click on any of the following links: ACT, NSW, NT, QLD, SA, TAS, VIC, WA.
Engaging with our members during COVID-19
The Australian Water Association (AWA) is keeping members and the water industry updated through all the usual channels including email, the weekly Source newsletter and the Water Source website. You can also see our latest official updates on our media page.
Our events team, branch managers and committees are working hard to bring the water industry more virtual events for sharing information, connecting with each other and inspiring positive change. For the latest news on our upcoming events, please visit our dedicated page on Events & COVID-19.
What are our members doing?
To find out what policies and procedures are being taken by some of our members, click on the following links: SMEC, SUEZ, Veolia, GHD, Seqwater, Melbourne Water, Infinite Water, KPMG and CMP Consulting.
How can I share my experiences?
The AWA welcomes your contributions to share positive messages of how you are supporting each other during this challenging period. If you have any personal experiences you want to share, send us an email at email@example.com. Or share them with us on our social media channels.