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Coronavirus: Social distancing will save thousands of lives

Keep your physical distance but stay emotionally connected to other people while the Coronavirus rules, a Victorian GP has urged.

Dr Vyom Sharma, who has been active in educating people about social distancing via Twitter and and on 3RRR, said it was important for people to act as a community, or there could be negative effects on mental health.

“We want people to realise they are doing something deeply dignified that will save lives. Do it with purpose and take some pride in it. Ironically by practicing social distancing, you are connecting yourself to the mission of saving thousands of humans,” he said.

The Federal Government yesterday reinforced the message that all Australians should continue to practice social distancing, which includes not shaking hands or hugging, and put a ban on indoor gatherings of more than 100 people.

Dr Sharma said it was important to see the positives, because social distancing – keeping a 1.5m distance between people – could otherwise have negative effects.

“It is the denial of the most profound dimension of human existence – connection,” he said. While it’s important to avoid group gatherings, people can take advantage of the digital age to remain connected.

“Social isolation will never work because we are social beings. We want people to connect,” he said.

He reinforced that complete social isolation was not the same as social distancing. Isolation is for those who have tested positive for COVID-19, who have come from overseas or who have been in close contact with someone who is confirmed to have the virus.

It is also a good precaution for those who are particularly vulnerable because of serious health issues or advanced age.

According to Victoria the Department of Health and Human Services website, “one in five Australians has a mental disorder”, and for some increased isolation or distance could be a mental health trigger.

But Dr Sharma said there were still options.

“Social distancing requires social and psychological connectedness,” he said. “It’s important to realise why we are social distancing – we are trying to save well over a 100,000 lives in this country. The risk to the individual if they do not practice social distancing is mild, but the threat to the community is enormous.

For those who felt their mental health was suffering because of distancing or isolation, there are several resources available, Dr Sharma said.

People could “speak to a helpline, a GP, friends or family. Find humour, irony, profoundness – it is there to be found even the most banal or dark moments.”

Remaining engaged was the key. “Either internally though reading, writing, dancing, Netflix, or socially through phone calls, skype chats, online forums or sitting on a lawn separated from friends with a fair distance.”

Dr Sharma is a GP and a co-presenter on 3RRR’s show Radiotherapy, a long-running program focused on health, medicine and well-being.

If this article has raised any concerns refer to the following support services:

Beyond Blue: 1300 22 4636

Kids Helpline: 1800 55 1800

COVID-19 National Hotline: 1800 020 080


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