The doctor at coronavirus ground zero

 

FROM the ebola plague of west Africa to ground zero of the coronavirus outbreak in Japan, this Gold Coast local is the front line of defence for global pandemics.

Now back on the Coast, Dr John Gerrard the Gold Coast University Hospital (GCUH) Director of infectious diseases said he believes there is still a chance of containing the spread in Australia - but is ready for anything.

"This is something I have been preparing for the last 26 years, and others have been preparing long before that," Dr Gerrard told the Bulletin during a tour of the infectious disease ward at the GCUH this week.

"Health workers have plans in place and are following them.

"We are as ready as we can be to ensure if there is an epidemic we are ready.

"It is probably still possible to contain it totally at this stage, but we are working on the assumption that it will spread."

 

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Dr John Gerrard. Director of infectious diseases. Health Health Minister Steven Miles will meet the Gold Coast clinical team treating coronavirus patients at Gold Coast University Hospital and tour the infectious disease unit. Pic Tim Marsden
Dr John Gerrard. Director of infectious diseases. Health Health Minister Steven Miles will meet the Gold Coast clinical team treating coronavirus patients at Gold Coast University Hospital and tour the infectious disease unit. Pic Tim Marsden

 

An expert in his field Dr Gerrard has travelled internationally for a number of plagues and in 2014 received an national honour, the Humanitarian Overseas Service Medal for his work in west Africa.

During the largest ebola epidemic in history he spent six weeks in Sierra Leone to establish Australia's first ever treatment centre in the hot zone.

Just last week he returned from assisting with the response to the Diamond Princess cruise ship which was quarantined off the coast of Japan, where more than 700 passengers and crew became infected with COVID-19.

"We were to establish a quarantine for those coming out of the boat," he said.

"It is an extraordinary event for any country to deal with, any country would have difficulty dealing with a situation like that, we are seeing the situation repeated now in another cruise ship in America.

Dr John Gerrard, Director of infectious diseases. Picture: Tim Marsden.
Dr John Gerrard, Director of infectious diseases. Picture: Tim Marsden.

"Tragically the deaths occurred and are likely to increase with the number in intensive care."

However the case provided valuable information to international doctors treating the disease as the ship served as a contained environment with limited variables, enabling experts to track the speed and method of the spread.

"An enemy you don't understand is far more frightening that one you do, so the Japan experience was useful in that regard," Dr Gerrard said.

"The closed population in Japan give us that experience.

"We are learning that young people are a mild risk of serious infections, while those in the older brackets are of more of a concern."

"Every decade older you are, the risk increases.

"This is a new virus, so people don't have immunity, while it presents mild in most there will be major pressures on hospital if everyone gets infected at once - which is why our focus is on containment."