A MAKESHIFT triage area at the main entrance of John Hunter Hospital on Tuesday asked people who think they could have COVID-19 to "stop here".
About 25 people wearing face masks were waiting to be seen at the screening clinic on Tuesday afternoon.
Medical centres and practices throughout the region have been swamped with people wanting to be tested for coronavirus (COVID-19) after the first confirmed case in the Hunter.
A man in his 70s remains in isolation after developing symptoms shortly after returning from Italy last week.
Dr Lee Fong, secretary of the Hunter GP Association and senior clinical director of Hunter Primary Care, said local clinics had been busier than usual due to the high demand for testing.
"And almost nobody needs testing or treatment," Dr Fong said. "For the vast majority of us, we won't get anything more than a sore throat, fever or cough. It is the old and the sick who are the ones most at risk. We all can and should take precautions - like hand washing and using hand sanitiser, not touching our faces, coughing into our elbows, and staying at home when our GP asks us to.
"If we protect the old and the sick, the health system will stay available for the rest of us - all the way from the kid with a sore ear, to the young adult who needs intensive care."
Dr Fong said people should be informed about cases of coronavirus in the community, without being unnecessarily worried. "Good information" would help. He said if a person has a runny nose, sore throat, fever or cough they should call their GP rather than go to the emergency department.
"Your GP will guide you about what you should do - like stay at home, have a test, or go to the hospital."
Newcastle and Hunter pharmacies have been flooded with customers trying to stockpile medications due to fears the onset of COVID-19 might lead to shortages in Australia. Luke Kelly, the president of the Newcastle and Hunter Valley Pharmacists Association (NHVPA), said it was feeling "a bit like hysteria" on the ground.
"It is understandable, but it is unnecessary," Mr Kelly said. "Already there are reports of anxious customers requesting multiple supplies, but we are stressing the need to keep calm.
"People have genuine concerns because the messages have not been clear, but they should rest assured there is no need to worry, and definitely no need to stockpile medications."
Mr Kelly said NHVPA pharmacies were under pressure, and doing their best to provide the best up-to-date information on a "fast-evolving" situation.
"We have obligations not to over-supply. Professionally, we could get in trouble for doing it," he said.
"Pharmacists are accessible and there for the community. They will go out of their way to ensure medicines are available now and into the future."
David Went, from TerryWhite Chemmart at The Junction, said the "general supply chain" in pharmacy was good.
"Be confident your local pharmacy will support you as needed," he said.
"The positive out of all of this is that the general public is learning about good hygiene, and how to minimise the spread of infectious diseases."
Jessica Cahill, from City Pharmacy, said if people bought their medicines all at once, it had the potential to cause a supply shortage.
"We need to look after each other," she said.
Hunter New England Health is providing care and support to one of the previously announced COVID-19 cases - a male in his 70s who had recently returned from Italy. A spokesperson said anyone diagnosed with COVID-19, and their close contacts, were either being treated in hospital or in self-isolation to ensure there was no ongoing risk of infection to others.
"NSW Health promptly notifies the public of any locations, including on public transport, where there has been a risk of infection. This is so members of the public can monitor their symptoms and seek medical assistance if they become unwell. Locations where these cases live, work or have visited do not pose any ongoing risk to the public. Publishing private details, such as the location of individuals diagnosed, is a breach of patient privacy and serves no public health benefit."
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