Coronavirus fears grow as flight is due for Sydney

 

The World Health Organisation will decide today whether to declare a global emergency over coronavirus, the outbreak of a new flu-like virus spreading in and beyond China.

If it does so it will be only the sixth international public health emergency to be declared in the last decade.

A direct flight from the city to Sydney, due to arrive at 11am today, was one of the last planes to leave Wuhan, China, before the airport and train stations were closed,The Australian reports.

The NSW Department of Health will deploy a medical team to Sydney Airport to screen any passengers arriving from Wuhan who are reported to be ill.

The Australian reports that two doctors and two nurses will don masks and other protective gear to examine any such passengers, but not screen passengers who appear to be in good health.

A woman wears a mask while carrying a dog in the street in Wuhan, Hubei province, China. Picture: Getty Images
A woman wears a mask while carrying a dog in the street in Wuhan, Hubei province, China. Picture: Getty Images

NSW Health Department spokesman Jeremy McAn­ulty said "if necessary people can be placed in isolation".

"We have the powers if need be under the Public Health Act," Dr McAnulty told The Australian.

WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus described the coronavirus outbreak as "an evolving and complex situation".

"Our team in China is working with local experts and officials to investigate the outbreak," Mr Ghebreyesus said.

He was speaking after the WHO held a day-long meeting of an independent panel of experts in Geneva.

 

Deaths from China's new coronavirus virus rose to 17, with more than 540 cases confirmed, increasing fears of contagion from an infection suspected to originate from illegally traded wildlife.

The WHO's head of emergencies programme, Mike Ryan, said the priority now was to find the roots of how the virus is passing between people.

"We are in agreement with Chinese authorities who have been clear and transparent that there is evidence of human-to-human transmission," he said.

"The primary issue is to limit (that) human-to-human transmission." The previously unknown coronavirus strain is believed to have emerged from an animal market in the central city of Wuhan, with cases now detected as far away as the United States.

Wuhan authorities halted flights and trains from Thursday morning and told residents they should not leave without a special reason.

In Thailand, officials have introduced mandatory thermal scans of passengers arriving at airports in Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Phuket and Krabi from high-risk areas in China.

In Hong Kong, authorities have said they are on high alert, carrying out scans at the city's airport - one of the world's busiest - and at other international land and sea crossing points.

The United States had also ordered the screening of passengers arriving on direct or connecting flights from Wuhan, including at airports in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Taiwan has issued travel advisories, and went to its second-highest alert level for those travelling to or from Wuhan. Vietnam also ordered more border checks on its frontier with China.

In Europe, Britain and Italy introduced enhanced monitoring of flights from Wuhan, while Romania and Russia are also strengthening checks.

Guards wearing face masks stand at Hankou Railway Station in Wuhan, China. Picture: Getty Images
Guards wearing face masks stand at Hankou Railway Station in Wuhan, China. Picture: Getty Images


DEADLY VIRUS 'WILL REACH AUSTRALIA'

It is "quite likely" a virus that has killed at least 17 people will reach Australia, according to the nation's Chief Medical Officer ­Brendan Murphy.

Despite the risk, he said, the country was prepared to deal with the new and ­mysterious SARS-like novel ­coronavirus.

"We do have a lot of traffic from China and I think it's quite likely we will get some cases here but I'm very ­confident that we're well ­prepared to respond if we do," Professor Murphy said.

A man was rushed to hospital from Melbourne Airport with respiratory issues.

Michael McCormack and Scott Morrison are updated by Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy on the steps being taken to control the coronavirus. Picture: AAP
Michael McCormack and Scott Morrison are updated by Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy on the steps being taken to control the coronavirus. Picture: AAP

The traveller, in his 40s, had recently travelled to China, sparking concern with biosecurity officers. Test ­results later cleared him.

The virus, from the Chinese city of Wuhan, was detected at the end of last year and has spread to the US, Thailand, South Korea, Japan and Taiwan.

China's National Health Commission said the virus was adapting and mutating, making it harder for authorities to control the outbreak.

The World Health Organisation was due to hold an emergency meeting last night to decide whether the outbreak constituted a global health emergency.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison met with Professor Murphy for a briefing about the threat at the Department of Health's National Incident Room.

He was shown the new campaign to be rolled out at airports today, urging people travelling from Wuhan to wash their hands and cover their mouths when coughing.

Mr Morrison said he understood people were "somewhat anxious about this outbreak" but said Australian health agencies were "leaning forward".

A traveller wears a face mask as he walks outside of the Beijing Railway Station in Beijing. Picture: AP
A traveller wears a face mask as he walks outside of the Beijing Railway Station in Beijing. Picture: AP

"The states and Commonwealth are working together to stay ahead of this," he said.

A Brisbane man suspected of contracting a SARS-like disease while visiting China was cleared on Wednesday.

He was held in isolation at his Brisbane home until ­authorities confirmed he was not infected. A Queensland Health spokesman said tests showed the man had not been infected with the new virus.

WORLD BAFFLED AT VIRUS

The world remains baffled by the newly-discovered coronavirus, which has infected hundreds of people and taken 17 lives, state television quoted the provincial government as saying.

The virus, known as 2019-nCov, originated in China and has not before been seen in humans. While symptoms can be as mild as a common cold, in severe cases it can cause pneumonia which can have deadly consequences

The outbreak is believed to have originated in the city of Wuhan in central China. The Chinese government's confirmation that the new virus can be transmitted between people heightened fears it could spread faster and more widely just as millions of Chinese planned to travel for the Lunar New Year holiday.

China's National Health Commission recently announced the death toll had risen from six to nine, and that 440 people in 13 Chinese provinces were infected.

Coronavirus has not yet been detected in Australia despite a number of people having been tested.

As health authorities race to develop a vaccine, here's everything you need to know, and how you can protect yourself from infection:

WHAT IS CORONAVIRUS?

Coronavirus are a family of viruses that cause illnesses from the common cold to severe illnesses, typically they infect animals but a few affect humans like Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MER-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).

The coronavirus currently causing concern is known as 2019-nCoV. It is a new strain that has not previously been identified in humans.

HOW MANY PEOPLE HAVE BEEN INFECTED?

So far around 440 people are known to have been infected. Most infections (270) have been in China, Thailand has reported two cases, Japan one, South Korea one-two cases and the US one case. Health authorities also investigated a suspected case in Queensland in a man who arrived from China, but he was cleared.

WHY IS THE VIRUS CONCERNING HEALTH AUTHORITIES?

Some coronaviruses can have severe death tolls. The MER-coV virus has a fatality rate of 26 per cent, SARS had a fatality rate of 12 per cent. This compares to the fatality rate for the influenza virus of less than one per cent. To date the new 2019 nCoV coronavirus has killed 6 people so it is so far not as severe as these more worrying coronaviruses.

Wearing a face mask could help if the virus is transmitted through the air. Washing hands with soapy water regularly can help prevent the spread. Picture: Getty Images
Wearing a face mask could help if the virus is transmitted through the air. Washing hands with soapy water regularly can help prevent the spread. Picture: Getty Images


WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF THE VIRUS?

The symptoms could be as mild as a common cold but in severe cases it the virus can cause severe pneumonia, fever and shortness of breath. People who develop severe pneumonia from the virus could go into septic shock (life threatening low blood pressure), respiratory failure or cardiac failure that could kill them

WHERE DID IT COME FROM?

The virus originated in the city of Wuhan in China the first cases were identified in people who travelled to local food markets and one theory is it was transmitted from animals to some of the humans who visited the market.

IS HUMAN TO HUMAN TRANSMISSION POSSIBLE?

Chinese health authorities have confirmed the virus is now being transmitted from human to human. A number of health workers in China contracted the virus from sick patients.

HOW CAN YOU CATCH IT?

The virus could be transmitted in droplets in the breath of infected people or could be transmitted if they leave traces of the virus on door handles or railings they have touched that are subsequently touched by others.

HOW CAN YOU PROTECT YOURSELF?

Wearing a face mask could help if the virus is transmitted through the air. Washing hands with soapy water regularly can help prevent the spread.


WHAT SHOULD YOU DO IF YOU HAVE A COLD LIKE VIRUS?

If you have been in contact with anyone who has recently travelled to China or an infected country who has been ill you should go to your doctor and get tested.

IS THERE A TEST FOR THE VIRUS?

The US has developed a fast test for the virus and is in the process of sharing it with other countries. Results can be returned within a day.

WHAT IS THE INCUBATION PERIOD?

It could take between seven to ten days after you are infected before symptoms of the virus emerge.

IS THERE A VACCINE?

Currently there is no vaccine but the National Institute of Health in the US is working on one. It could take months before it can be trialled.

Australia's Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy said the University of Queensland has government funding for epidemic preparedness and may be asked to help develop a vaccine.

Health authorities are working on a vaccine for the mysterious coronavirus. Picture: AP
Health authorities are working on a vaccine for the mysterious coronavirus. Picture: AP

 

WHY IS THE WORLD HEALTH ORGANISATION IS MEETING ABOUT THE VIRUS?

The World Health Organisation will today decide whether to declare the new coronavirus to be a public health emergency. This would mean countries would have to report cases of the virus to the WHO which would be able to mandate surveillance and monitoring of the spread of the virus. It could then send in teams of health experts to help control the virus if needed.

WHAT IS AUSTRALIA DOING TO CONTAIN THE VIRUS?

A man who travelled to Queensland from China was quarantined and tested for the virus this week but he has now been released from quarantine and is said to be without symptoms but final tests results are not yet in.

The Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy said Australia would not install temperature monitors at airports as these only picked up around 10 per cent of cases.

There are three direct flights a week between Wuhan in China and Sydney and health workers will interview passengers, check for signs of disease.

The Department of Foreign Affairs has issued a travel alert for the City of Wuhan.

Doctors in Australia are being asked to quiz patients presenting with respiratory illnesses about their recent travel and who they have been in contact with and to test them if they believe they may be at risk of carrying the virus.

AUSSIES TESTED AS VIRUS SPREADS

A number of Australians have been tested for the deadly coronavirus but there are no confirmed cases, the federal health minister says.

A Brisbane man being tested for the virus was released from isolation on Tuesday.

He shows no ongoing symptoms and test results are expected in coming days, Queensland Health said.

"We've got one gentleman who we're following at the moment, who has travelled from the area around Wuhan and has developed a respiratory illness, but he is recovering at home," Queensland's Chief Health Officer, Jeanette Young, said.

"So we've done some tests on him, and we're awaiting the results."

Biosecurity measures have been ramped up for flights into the country from China, and the city of Wuhan in particular.

Wuhan, the sprawling capital of central China's Hubei province, is the epicentre of the coronavirus. It has since spread to other parts of China, as well as Japan, South Korea and Thailand.

The Coronavirus seen under an electron microscope. Picture: AFP
The Coronavirus seen under an electron microscope. Picture: AFP

The man who was placed in isolation at his home flew into Brisbane earlier in January after visiting family in Wuhan, where the virus broke out in December.

"A number of people have been tested in Australia and found to be negative," Heath Minister Greg Hunt told Sky News on Wednesday. Australia receives three flights from Wuhan per week which would be monitored closely, he said.

"(Flights) will be met by biosecurity officers, information given to passengers and the biosecurity officers will be accompanied by health officers," Mr Hunt told the ABC.

"They do have the capacity because of the measures taken to bring people directly to hospital if that were required.

"But we expect that any passengers that do have issues will self-report because it's in their own interests but if not, then there are strong powers."

Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy urged anyone who has come from Wuhan and develops flu-like symptoms to seek medical attention.

"The risks really at present remain particularly focused on people coming from that region of China, particularly the city of Wuhan," Prof Murphy told the ABC.

"That's why we have ramped up biosecurity measures meeting those three direct flights from Wuhan a week." He said there is no evidence that the virus is present in Australia.

Health screenings will be ramped up at Australian airports after it was confirmed the virus can be spread from person to person.

Australia’s Chief Medical Officer Professor Brendan Murphy. Picture: Stefan Postles
Australia’s Chief Medical Officer Professor Brendan Murphy. Picture: Stefan Postles

 

Prof Murphy said information about coronavirus would be put at all ports of entry, "warning people approximate this dips ease and alerting them that if they do develop symptoms on arrival or after arrival, that they should seek medical attention".

"The World Health (Organisation) is now reporting limited human-to-human transmission and this is a development over the last three or four days," he said, adding symptoms included a cough, breathlessness and a sore throat.

"No international travellers have yet been confirmed as having this coronavirus in Australia and we already have well-established existing biosecurity measures at the border, where airlines are required - and have been for many years - to declare any ill passengers on board and we have protocols for assessing those."

It comes as Asian markets slumped as the virus spooked investors.

Most European and US markets followed Asia lower after Hong Kong went down 2.8 per cent by the market's close and Shanghai ended with a loss of 1.4 per cent.

The mystery bug has so far killed nine people, and hundreds are under medical observation, China's National Health Commission said.

FIRST WESTERN VIRUS VICTIM IDENTIFIED

Professor Murphy's comments follow those of Chinese President Xi Jinping, who warned the world to take the new mystery virus seriously as the first westerner believed to have been infected was identified as a British tourist in Thailand.

Mr Xi issued his warning as Chinese citizens gear up for their busiest travel period, with Australia a leading destination.

China has reported a sharp spike in the number of people infected with the SARS-like virus - as millions begin travelling for the Lunar New Year.

Health officials in Wuhan said an additional 136 cases have been confirmed in the central city, which now has a total of 198 infected patients.

Ash Shorely is still seriously ill. Picture: GoFundMe
Ash Shorely is still seriously ill. Picture: GoFundMe

"The recent outbreak of novel coronavirus pneumonia in Wuhan and other places must be taken seriously," Mr Xi said, according to state broadcaster CCTV.

The Sun reported yesterday that UK tourist Ash Shorely was fighting for his life in a hospital in Bangkok after a pneumonia-style bug infected both lungs while he was on Koh Phi Phi island.

Mr Shorely, 32, had to be ferried by specialised seaplane because his damaged lungs could not cope with high altitude travel.

Doctors in Phuket found his symptoms are consistent with the Chinese coronavirus, whose spread has triggered fears of a pandemic.

Surgeons in Phuket inserted pipes into Mr Shorely's back and drained 2kg of liquid from his collapsed lungs.

Ash Shorely, suspected first 'western' victim of the Wuhan flu virus. Picture: GoFundMe
Ash Shorely, suspected first 'western' victim of the Wuhan flu virus. Picture: GoFundMe

His father, Chris, said: "If he wasn't so fit and healthy before he wouldn't be with us now. They think he is the first Western victim of the Chinese flu, we are waiting on tests.

"Anyone travelling to Asia I would say to you, get a mask. Everyone here is wearing masks, there are people coughing everywhere.

"It's Chinese New Year so this flu is likely to be spreading. It is very serious."

Travellers walking outside the Beijing Railway Station in Beijing. Picture: Mark Schiefelbein
Travellers walking outside the Beijing Railway Station in Beijing. Picture: Mark Schiefelbein

 

Mr Xi instructed government departments to promptly release information on the virus and deepen international co-operation.

The outbreak comes as the country enters its busiest travel period, when millions board trains and planes for the Lunar New Year holidays.

The President's remarks came the same day that the country reported a sharp rise in the number of people infected by the novel form of viral pneumonia, including the first cases in the capital.

Zhong Nanshan, a renowned scientist at the National Health Commission who helped expose the scale of the SARS outbreak, said two people in Guangdong province in southern China caught the virus from family members, state media said.

Some medical workers have also tested positive for the virus, the English-language China Daily newspaper reported.

A patient in Wuhan. Picture: Getty
A patient in Wuhan. Picture: Getty


AIRPORT SCREENING PROCEDURES RAMP UP

US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention officials say they are taking temperatures and asking about symptoms of passengers from Wuhan arriving at airports in New York (JFK), Los Angeles and San Francisco.

At least a half-dozen countries in Asia have started screening incoming airline passengers from central China.

Thai nurses and doctors check the temperatures of travellers coming from China and Hong Kong. Picture: Getty
Thai nurses and doctors check the temperatures of travellers coming from China and Hong Kong. Picture: Getty

The list includes Thailand and Japan, which both have reported cases of the disease in people who had come from Wuhan.

US CDC officials estimate roughly 5000 passengers will go through the virus screening process in the next couple of weeks.

The CDC's Dr Martin Cetron said the CDC wanted to be prepared and take precautions, rather than wait for an outbreak.

A health worker monitors a thermal scanner as passengers arrive at Narita airport in Japan. Picture: Getty
A health worker monitors a thermal scanner as passengers arrive at Narita airport in Japan. Picture: Getty

"The earlier we detect a case, the better we can protect the public, and the more we can understand about this virus and its risk for spread," he said.

The CDC is sending in 100 staffers to handle the airport screenings.

Passengers who seem like they might be infected will undergo testing for flu or other possible causes. The plan is to place them in isolation at a nearby hospital until doctors know what they're dealing with, to prevent possible spread of the new virus.

Specialised testing for the virus can take a day for results, CDC officials said.

A notice for passengers from Wuhan, China is displayed near a quarantine station at Narita airport. Picture: Getty
A notice for passengers from Wuhan, China is displayed near a quarantine station at Narita airport. Picture: Getty

Doctors began seeing a new type of viral pneumonia - fever, cough, difficulty breathing - in people who worked at or visited a food market in the suburbs of Wuhan late last month.

China's National Health Commission said experts have judged the current outbreak to be "preventable and controllable."

"However, the source of the new type of coronavirus has not been found, we do not fully understand how the virus is transmitted, and changes in the virus still need to be closely monitored," the commission said.

The closed Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan. Picture: Getty
The closed Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan. Picture: Getty

Coronaviruses cause diseases ranging from the common cold to SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome.

SARS first infected people in southern China in late 2002 and spread to more than two dozen countries, killing nearly 800. The Chinese government initially tried to conceal the severity of the SARS epidemic, but its cover-up was exposed by a high-ranking physician.

"In the early days of SARS, reports were delayed and covered up," said an editorial in the nationalistic Global Times.

"That kind of thing must not happen again in China."

A security officer wears a face mask as he patrols outside of the Beijing Railway Station. Picture: AP
A security officer wears a face mask as he patrols outside of the Beijing Railway Station. Picture: AP

China has notified and maintained close communication with the World Health Organisation and other relevant countries and regions, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said.

The World Health Organisation panel will meet in Geneva on Wednesday to determine whether to declare the outbreak "a public health emergency of international concern" - a rare designation only used for the gravest epidemics.

Wuhan has also adopted measures to control the flow of people leaving the city, Geng said.

The virus causing the current outbreak is different from those previously identified, Chinese scientists said earlier this month. Initial symptoms of the novel coronavirus include fever, cough, tightness of the chest and shortness of breath.

On the Weibo social media platform, which is widely used in China, people posted prevention advice such as wearing masks and washing hands. State broadcaster CCTV recommended staying warm, increasing physical activity, eating lightly and avoiding crowded places.

Some people said they had cancelled their travel plans and were staying home for Lunar New Year.

Chinese President Xi Jinping said the coronavirus needed to be taken seriously. Picture: Aung Shine Oo
Chinese President Xi Jinping said the coronavirus needed to be taken seriously. Picture: Aung Shine Oo
Pedestrians wear protective masks as they walk on a shopping district in Tokyo. Picture: AP
Pedestrians wear protective masks as they walk on a shopping district in Tokyo. Picture: AP

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