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10 things you don’t need to do during the COVID-19 pandemic

Helpful advice for shopping, superannuation, insurance, travel, masks and more.

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Last updated: 12 August 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has had an impact on every aspect of our lives, dramatically changing how we work, shop, travel and interact with family and friends. 

With all the uncertainty and anxiety, it can be hard to know what to do and not do. After all, it's natural to want to protect yourself and your family from illness or hardship. However, intense media coverage and misinformation can sometimes lead to unnecessary panic and rushed decisions. 

To help, here's a list of things you don't need to buy or worry about, and some expert advice on navigating the wild rollercoaster that is 2020. 

1. Keep the cupboards stocked, but don't go overboard

Panic buying can be contagious, especially when we see countless scenes of people frantically filling trolleys in media reports and our social feeds. 

While you may feel more secure if you have a couple of weeks' worth of supplies in case you need to isolate, remember not everyone has the ability or finances to buy in bulk. Empty shelves can cause significant stress to older people, people with disabilities and essential workers with limited time to shop.

Rather than bulk buy, add a few extra items to your shop here and there to build up supplies (remember you'll only need to last 14 days if you do not actually get the virus). Also keep in mind, supermarkets may have enforced limits on certain items. 

Alternatively, look into subscription services, which can deliver everything from full meals to coffee to wine to toilet paper, contact-free. This means more food left on supermarket shelves for others and less effort for you to get it, which is safer too.

2. Don't buy private health cover because of COVID-19

CHOICE health insurance expert, Uta Mihm, says: "Do not buy or change your private health insurance policy because you're worried about getting sick with COVID-19. It will not affect the quality of your treatment.

"If you become ill with COVID-19, you would likely be admitted to a public hospital with an intensive care unit and potentially isolation facilities. As a result, you likely won't have access to benefits afforded by private health insurance, such as choosing your own doctor or getting a private room."

The Department of Health confirms: "The private health insurance status of a patient who is affected by coronavirus will not determine their treatment. Doctors and hospitals determine who receives treatment, the treatment they receive, and the timing of the treatment. It is not determined by the government or insurers."

Of course, your health care needs might have changed because of new financial circumstances or less access to extras service. With a private insurance price rise looming on 1 October, it's a good time to compare policies and make sure you’re getting the best deal.

3. Wearing a mask? Don't make these mistakes

Please note: face mask requirements and advice can change rapidly depending on where you live. Visit your relevant government website for the latest guidance.

Wearing a face mask can help reduce the chances of virus transmission, but there are some definite don'ts to keep in mind when putting one on. These include:

  • Don't touch the front of the mask once it's on and then touch your eyes, nose or mouth. 
  • When taking it off, again avoid touching the main part of the mask, and remove it using the ties instead.
  • Don't use single-use masks more than once, unless you absolutely have to.
  • Don't remove your mask to talk to people.
  • Never put a mask on children under the age of two because of choking and strangulation risks.
  • Don't 'clean' a mask by putting it in a microwave – it could catch fire.

Check out our comprehensive face mask guide for the most effective masks, how to clean them and make your own.

4. Don't buy into misleading advertising

Watch out for businesses engaged in 'panic marketing' with ads tapping into people's anxieties to sell you things you don't need or products that don't do what they promise. 

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An example of an ad capitalising on anxiety and scarcity to sell.

We've also seen a wide range of dodgy products – ranging from cleaning products to tech gadgets to clothes – spruiking unproven claims that they "kill coronavirus" or are "antiviral", so be sceptical. Recently, activewear brand Lorna Jane was fined almost $40,000 by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) for unlawfully advertising "anti-virus activewear".

Do your own independent research on the product and the company, read others' reviews and verify the claims where possible. 

In regard to medical products, it's illegal to promote goods that claim to test, treat or cure any condition unless it is approved by the TGA. Exercise caution if you see a product that claims to treat COVID-19. If you have health concerns, follow official health advice and consult a health professional.

5. Don't book holidays or travel insurance without reading the fine print

With global travel currently banned, you might be considering a domestic trip instead, but be careful – ever-changing travel restrictions represent a constant hazard.

Many people have been caught out by the terms and conditions of their travel arrangements – whether it's flights, hotels, tours or car rentals – so read the fine print to ensure you understand what happens if you make a booking and you're no longer able to travel. 

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It's unlikely domestic or international travel insurance will cover you for COVID or government-imposed travel bans as a result of COVID. But if you're booking an expensive domestic holiday, it will still cover unforeseen events, such as summer bushfires or floods. 

Some insurers are starting to exclude future epidemics and pandemics in their terms and conditions, so be aware of this if you're buying a policy for an upcoming trip. More travel information is available on the Smart Traveller website.

6. Most people shouldn't worry about their super 

What should you be doing to protect your retirement savings from the impact of COVID-19?

Xavier O'Halloran, director of Super Consumers Australia, says most people don't have to worry about doing anything with their super.

"Super is all about the long game and you should invest accordingly," O'Halloran says. "The share market generally bounces back from shocks like this.

"Given most people are more than a decade from retirement, they've got plenty of time to ride out the shocks. For those near retirement, it's time to think about building up a cash buffer to cover your spending while the markets recover.

"In fact, trying to get out of high-risk investments at the peak and back in at the bottom is highly unpredictable and can leave you chasing your losses."

For people who are retired or nearing retirement it is worthwhile getting some advice specific to your needs.

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Washing with standard soap and water is the best way to prevent spread of the virus.

7. Be wary of making your own hand sanitiser

We've seen serious price-gouging for products such as hand sanitiser, and even exposed large retailer Mosaic for selling dodgy sanitiser (our tests found it contained just 20% alcohol, which is ineffective against coronavirus). We've also investigated alcohol-free sanitiser and found its effectiveness to be inconclusive at best. 

With supplies selling out or for outrageous mark-ups, many people have taken to sharing many DIY sanitiser recipes online. But be wary. 

A DIY recipe needs to contain the right percentage of alcohol to be effective. Recipes that contain less than 60% alcohol, or are primarily made up of ingredients such as essential oils, are unlikely to be effective. 

On the ABC's Coronacast podcast, physician Dr Norman Swan says, "Handwashing with soap and water is the best thing to use to kill this virus, followed by a hand sanitiser with the correct percentage of alcohol."

8. Don't forget to review your insurance and negotiate a discount 

If your personal circumstances have changed - like you're working from home or driving a lot less - you may be able to negotiate a discount on your home, contents and car insurance because your level of risk has changed.

CHOICE insurance expert Daniel Graham advises telling your insurer of the change (your policy requires you to, anyway) and then using that as leverage to discuss a better deal. 

"They should have discretion to give you a discount," he says. "And if they don't, then go somewhere else. The threat of cancelling is always a good way to get your insurer into gear. As long as you're prepared to walk, by all means threaten to."

Also, if you're experiencing financial hardship due to the pandemic, many insurers are offering extra support to existing customers, so it's worth looking into.

9. Don't stockpile medicines

The Therapeutic Goods Administration has not yet received any notifications of medicine shortages in Australia that are a direct result of COVID-19. While you may like to ensure you have at least two weeks' supply of prescription medicines in the event you're quarantined and can't get to the chemist, there is no need to stockpile. This could result in others not being able to access medications they need straight away.

10. Don't neglect your mental health

It's important to stay informed, but receiving high levels of negative information can heighten anxiety. If you need somebody to talk to, consider reaching out to Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636 or read their advice.

For the latest medical advice and official reports on coronavirus (COVID-19), read the Australian government's health alert.

We care about accuracy. See something that's not quite right in this article? Let us know or read more about fact checking at CHOICE.