Staying safe at a protest during the Covid-19 Pandemic

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How can I protect myself and others at a protest?

Protesting against injustices, inequalities and social issues are an important part of any democracy. They help people realise that they are not alone and empower the public by showing us that there are potentially thousands of others who are thinking the same things. By protesting, we alter the agenda, and start a debate in an electoral democracy, by providing an essential voice for minority groups and marginalised parts of society.

Over the last few weeks we’ve seen protesters take to the streets of cities around the world to mourn the death of George Floyd. But many people who have contacted us are wondering whether it’s possible to participate safely in protests while the Covid-19 pandemic is still spreading and taking lives. The images of protesters standing shoulder to shoulder — some wearing face masks, others not — raise concerns, especially in cities with higher rates of infection. Our own doctors and experts say it’s difficult to assess how the protests will influence Covid-19 infections, but it is clear that a key ingredient for transmission is present at many of these rallies: close contact.

Covid-19 infection is still very much a health concern despite the easing of lockdown guidance and rules. Mass gatherings will become obvious places for people to catch the virus, which they could then spread to others, because of so much close contact in large groups. Anytime people are together in a crowd, there’s a chance that is a serious risk that the disease could circulate among them.

Being outdoors does seems to reduce the risk of exposure because the virus can’t survive long in sunlight and there’s better air circulation, but it’s not a guarantee against infection. So, to reduce your own risk, it’s best to continue practicing social distancing and always wear a face mask.

We’ve seen some family-friendly events where protesters sit in a public space such as a park or library grounds, remaining 6 feet apart. They make the right statement, encourage free speech and protest, but seem to be a safer method of protest. So you might want to find out what type of protest you are heading to if you are planning to attend.

“Everyone is making these risk-benefit calculations for themselves, based on what they perceive to be their own risk factors. There’s no one size fits all for that. That’s why it’s really important to have conversations about what people can do to minimise their risk.” Kim Sue, physician

Staying Safe

Our epidemiologists and doctors have been encouraging many ways (besides wearing a mask) to reduce the risk of spreading the coronavirus or being infected in the streets while exercising the right to protest. The risk will not be zero, but protesters can minimise harm to themselves and others by following the following guidance:

  1. Research which protests are officially organised, and respect the guidance; many are not.
  2. Try to always wear a face covering in large groups.
  3. Wear eye protection to prevent injury.
  4. Try to stay hydrated; take a good stock of water with you.
  5. Use hand sanitiser.
  6. Don’t yell; use signs & noise makers instead.
  7. Stick with a small buddy group to keep your unknown contacts low.
  8. Keep 6 feet from other groups.
  9. Limit your time out there.

Don’t take unnecessary risk

Stay home if you’re sick - If you’re coughing, feverish, or have recently been exposed to someone with Covid-19, please do not join the protests. Organisers, as well as public health experts, have shared that advice repeatedly, emphasising that going out when you’re sick puts others at risk. It might be frustrating, and you might feel that you need your voice heard, but remember that you could be taking Covid-19 into a larger group.

If you have been on a protest and you are worried that you might have contracted Covid-19, or you start to feel ill, book an appointment to speak to one of our GPs who can give you some practical advice, help, and support on managing your symptoms at home. Or if you are planning on attending a protest or large gathering and you are worried about the possibility of contracting the virus, similarly, our team of qualified medical professionals are here to support and advise you.

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