The world health authorities are doing their best to contain the concern, but we can’t help but worry about the new deadly virus that has been spreading across Asia, with already hundreds of confirmed cases and three people dead.
In latest news, the first case of this concerning virus has been diagnosed in the US. The infected man returned to the Seattle area in the middle of last week after travelling to the Wuhan area, where the outbreak began.
As a response, the Prime Minister has raised the travel advice for Wuhan City in China to level 2 following the spread of the outbreak across the world.
A Brisbane man was placed in isolation and underwent tests, after he showed symptoms of the virus after a trip to China. This was the first suspected case of the virus in Australia.
However, he has since been released from isolation, with doctors confirming he is no longer displaying any symptoms.
Australia’s Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy told Today that the Queensland man is well.
“What I’ve been told is that the tests aren’t back yet, but that the person is well and is now at home in home quarantine, awaiting for the tests,” Mr Murphy said.
“But the good news is that there’s no clinical concern about this person but we still don’t know whether they’ve had this virus or just another virus such as flu.”
How It Began
The outbreak started as a few cases of pneumonia-like illness at a fish market in Wuhan, Central China at the end of December. Only weeks later, the whole world is on high alert.
On 9 January this year, the World Health Organisation said that this is a new type of viral pneumonia, causing symptoms of fever, cough and difficulty breathing. They identified the virus as caused by a previously unknown type of coronavirus, which is a broad group of viruses ranging from the common cold to more serious illnesses like SARS.
Cases Are Increasing
Now, more than 200 cases of the novel coronavirus, or 2019-nCoV, have been reported across Asia (including Japan, Beijing, South Korea and Thailand). Nine people have died from the virus and many are critically ill.
The more concerning issue around this virus is that it has been confirmed that it is transmitted from person-to-person, which means it is much easily spread.
Lunar New Year
The outbreak comes as Asia enters its busiest travel period, when millions head out on holiday to celebrate the Lunar New Year on 25 January 25.
Many global borders are now on full alert to prevent this virus from entering its borders.
A video has been shared widely on Twitter showing people on a domestic flight out of Wuhan having their temperature taken by officials in protective suits.
A number of Asian countries and three US airports (San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York) have started screening incoming airline passengers from central China.
What Is Australia Doing About This Virus?
The Australian Department of Health said in a statement that it was aware of this outbreak and was watching developments closely, but there was no need for alarm in Australia, as reported in ABC News.
Chief medical officer Brendan Murphy said Australia has well-established procedures to ensure people with illnesses travelling into the country are detected at the border.
“We have in Australia instituted proportionate border measures in relation to direct flights to Wuhan but I should say that we are very well prepared as a nation to deal with any case of any of this disease if it does come here from China,” Professor Murphy said.
Border security will be taking “additional appropriate measures” to respond to the “significant development” over the weekend that the virus can be spread between humans.
Measures In Place
There are three direct flights from Wuhan to Sydney every week and passengers will be handed pamphlets with information in English and Mandarin asking them to identify themselves at the border if they have a fever or suspect they may have the virus.
The government is poised to expand their monitoring if they determine that other flights from China carry at-risk passengers.
“There are apparently 160 flights from China a week and obviously flights from China could come via other ports as well, so it’s a very complicated process,” Professor Murphy added.
Airlines are also required to report passengers who show symptoms of any kind of disease, including fever, sweats or chills. These sickly travellers would then be met by biosecurity officers when they arrive in Australia to be assessed.
No Need To Take Temperatures
Professor Murphy also said that past evidence suggests that scanning passenger temperatures at the border is ineffective.
“It missed a large number of cases … it leads to a false sense of security, it’s not an effective public health mechanism. We had a meeting of all of our senior public health experts yesterday and we don’t believe that is an appropriate measure and it’s helpful.”
However, he did warn that border screening “cannot absolutely prevent the spread of the disease into the country” especially since the incubation period of the virus is about one week.
“One of the particular features of this virus is that nearly everyone has a fever,” Prof Murphy said.
“But it is not distinguishable from the flu and it is flu season in China at the moment. That is why we are very much focussing our attention on those direct flights from Wuhan where there is a higher risk but again, people with – who are unwell who, come off a flight like that, are probably just as likely to not have this virus as something else.”
“But that is why we have developed protocols for the bio security officers and the Public Health officers and the Public Health officers to try to determine whether the risk is significant.”
This Virus Cannot Be Prevented From Entering Australia
“There’s no way of preventing this getting into the country if this becomes bigger. We need to respond to it as we always do, ” added Professor Murphy.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) in Geneva will convene an “emergency committee” meeting on Wednesday to determine whether the outbreak constitutes a public health emergency of international concern, and what recommendations should be made to manage it.
What Are The Symptoms To Watch Out For?
People with the virus usually start with a fever and respiratory difficulties. Common symptoms include cough, shortness of breath, rapid breathing, sore throat, runny nose. The virus presents similarly to the common cold, but is more severe.
Queensland chief health officer Jeannette Young warned that there was no vaccine available for the virus “and we don’t see one on the horizon … There is no specific treatment other than supportive care.”
Australians planning trips to China should check the government’s Smart Traveller website for up-to-date information on travel risks.
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