Embalmers at Tobin Brothers Funerals, Joseph Mallia (in white gown) and Robert Ridi wearing personal protective equipment at their mortuary. Photo: Eddie JimA deadly pandemic could shut down Melbourne as we know it.
Public transport could be terminated, AFL games cancelled and the casino, schools and office towers forced to close.
It has been predicted that the first wave of a pandemic could cause 10,000 deaths in Victoria. But families and friends may not be able to publicly mourn lost loved ones, because funeral services could be stopped as part of policy of “social distancing”.
While Ebola is currently the focus of public fear – with a doctor in New York testing positive for Ebola on Friday – an influenza pandemic is considered far more likely to cause mass deaths and panic in Melbourne.
It is a scenario that has been seriously considered and prepared for by all levels of government.
Melbourne City Council has its own detailed Influenza Pandemic Action Plan. Obtained by The Age using freedom-of-information laws, the document details the likely location of six “Mass Vaccination Centres”.
Outbreaks of influenza – often spread through coughing and sneezing – occur yearly during colder months in Australia. Pandemics can begin when a highly infectious new strain emerges for which humans have little or no immunity.
Australian National University Professor of Infectious Diseases, Peter Collignon, said there was a concern Australia could again see an influenza pandemic similar to the 1918 Spanish flu, which claimed about 10,000 Australian lives and caused more deaths worldwide than the First World War.
He said that every year there was a less than 1 per cent chance of experiencing a similar event. “However things can change, so we need to be vigilant,” he said.
Melbourne City Council’s pandemic plan was developed in 2008 in response to the H5N1 avian flu and considers a range of impacts of a deadly flu on Melbourne.
The plan – currently under review – says businesses should prepare for up to 50 per cent of their staff to be absent, as workers fall ill or stay at home to care for the infected.
At first the most vulnerable are expected to include homeless people and single-parent families. But as the pandemic takes hold new potential victims could emerge.
There could be orphaned children, the so-called “worried well” and the newly unemployed who have lost their jobs as a result of a pandemic-prompted economic downturn.
Mass vaccination centres could be set up across the city, with likely locations including Melbourne Town Hall, Carlton Baths, North Melbourne Town Hall and Kensington YMCA. Those who go to the centres will have to bring their Medicare card, birth certificates or other documents to prove they are in the “priority group” for vaccination.
Also likely to be part of the front-line pandemic response is the funeral industry, which could use their vehicles to transport bodies, helping to free up ambulances for the living.
Australian Funeral Directors Association president Darren Eddy said mortuary workers already used protective equipment, including goggles, when handling a body. But a pandemic could change the public face of the business.
Due to restrictions on large gatherings, Mr Eddy said funeral directors may have to videotape services so friends of the deceased can watch the event online on home computers.
Cancelling big events could be appropriate in a pandemic, Professor Collignon said. He said, however, that authorities should consider not only the virus’ severity, but also its likelihood of spreading.
While strains of the bird flu had a mortality rate of up to 40 per cent, because it did not spread easily, there would be no need to cancel a football match, he said.
A Melbourne City Council spokeswoman said in the event of a major disease or influenza outbreak, the council would take direction from the state government. In an “unlikely” local case of Ebola, Victoria’s health department said the primary response would come from health services and clinicians.
This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.