GRAPPLING WITH CORONAVIRUS – THE LATEST IN AUSTRALIA
A flight from the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak – Wuhan in central China – touched down in Sydney on Thursday. Passengers and crew wore face masks and those who flagged concerns about their health had their temperature taken.
NSW Health had doctors and nurses experienced in infection control at the airport working alongside the Australian Border Force. Virology experts were also there.
No ill passengers were found on the flight. However, those exposed to the virus may not display flu-like symptoms for up to a week.
ARE THERE ANY CASES IN AUSTRALIA?
There have been no confirmed Wuhan coronavirus cases in Australia.
A Queensland man on Wednesday was cleared of the disease having fallen ill earlier this month when he returned to Brisbane from Wuhan.
One person in a NSW hospital is being investigated after returning from Wuhan in the past fortnight with flu-like symptoms.
Outbound travel from Wuhan has been banned and Australians have been encouraged to reconsider travelling to the city.
More than 570 cases have been confirmed in China causing 17 deaths. Cases have also been confirmed in Thailand, Taiwan, South Korea, Japan and the United States.
There are reports it has also now spread to Vietnam, Singapore and Saudi Arabia.
IS THE DISEASE A SERIOUS THREAT?
The Wuhan coronavirus, officially known as 2019-nCoV, can cause pneumonia and serious breathing difficulties.
World Health Organisation (WHO) director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said about a quarter of the people infected so far had become severely ill, but most others had milder symptoms.
Most who died had underlying health problems, and many were older than 60.
Health authorities say the risk to the Australian public is relatively low but the WHO believes the virus is capable of human-to-human transfer.
HOW DOES IT SPREAD?
Human coronaviruses are commonly spread from an infected person by:
– Sneezing and coughing which sends viruses into the air in tiny droplets of saliva
– Close personal contact such as touching or shaking hands
– Touching a surface with viral particles on it
Once the virus is on a person’s hands they then infect themselves by touching their mouth, eyes or nose without washing their hands first.
IS IT LIKELY TO SPREAD TO AUSTRALIA?
The first cases of the virus were reported in Wuhan on December 31 last year where the it is believed to have originated in snakes.
Since then it has spread to at least eight other countries.
The World Health Organisation decided on Thursday not to declare the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak a global health emergency despite its spread.
The only airline that traveled directly from Wuhan to Australia was China Eastern Airlines, which flew into Sydney three times a week until the lockdown began, with the last flight on Thursday.
China has now expanded its quarantine lockdown beyond Wuhan to neighbouring Huanggang city and cities in neighbouring Hubei province which borders Beijing.
Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Smart Traveller website has advised Australians not to travel to Wuhan.
There is a risk that people already infected who are not showing symptoms may have traveled to Australia, or may come via other cities or ports.
Australia’s chief medical officer Brendan Murphy said on Thursday that state and territory health authorities will investigate anyone suspected of having the Wuhan coronavirus, and each state has an isolation facility.
Confirmation tests take up to two days however this is being sped up.
‘We’ve got really good systems to quickly isolate, test and quarantine people,’ Dr Murphy said.
Advice has been provided at all ports of entry, both air and sea, and information is being provided to doctors.
THERE IS NO VACCINE FOR THE VIRUS
“We probably still don’t have quite enough information on how virulent this virus is, how much contact you would have to have,” Macquarie University health systems professor Janaki Amin told AAP on Thursday.
“We know coronaviruses spread through droplets, sneezing and coughing on each other, and coughing seems to be one of the symptoms of this infection.”
ARE MASKS EFFECTIVE?
Not for those seeking to protect themselves from coronavirus.
“Masks used for the spread of infectious diseases are to stop infected people spreading it to others, not to protect you from infection yourself,” Dr Amin said.