Fifth Aussie case confirmed as coronavirus kills 80

 

The coronavirus death toll in China has sharply risen to 80, as NSW has confirmed a fifth case.

NSW chief health officer Dr Nicole Chant told reporters the 21-year-old woman who has the virus travelled on a direct flight from Sydney to Wuhan.

She was on China Eastern flight MU749 from Wuhan arriving in Sydney on January 23 - the last direct flight from the city to Australia before the travel ban.

Dr Chant said the young woman kept herself isolated before alerting medical authorities to her illness.

"She was met at the airport, she obviously received the fact sheet that said, 'If you become unwell, attend and seek care, and these are the signs and symptoms'," she said.

Chinese vendors wearing protective masks as they sell vegetables in the street during the the Chinese New Year holiday. Picture: Kevin Frayer/Getty
Chinese vendors wearing protective masks as they sell vegetables in the street during the the Chinese New Year holiday. Picture: Kevin Frayer/Getty

Dr Chant said she developed some symptoms about 24 hours later that worsened and went to hospital. She has been transported to Westmead Hospital.

"The Emergency Department took the appropriate procedures," she said.

"The doctors wore the correct personal protective equipment when undertaking the testing.

"We were alerted the testing was done, the patient was immediately put into isolation in a home isolation setting, and then once the diagnosis was confirmed."

It comes as the death toll rose by 24 in a matter of hours today, following reported fatalities in the epicentre province of Hubei.

The number of confirmed cases in China alone is now 2744 - 769 more than previously reported at about 8am (AEDT) today.

Of the figure, 461 of those infected are in serious condition.

Dr Chant said children who have come back from the Hubei province with symptoms or who have come into close contact of a confirmed case of coronavirus should not attend school for 14 days.

She said children who have recently travelled from China are still able to go to school if they do not present symptoms.

Dr Chant did not reveal the locations and suburbs where the Australian patients visited before presenting to health authorities, however she said that "location tracing" was happening.

She said despite indications that coronavirus was spreading between people before symptoms appear in China, that Australian health authorities are staying with their position that contagion only occurs after symptoms have appeared.

NSW Health minister Brad Hazzard said he would happily send his children to school, and said that children and university students are "safe" to go back to classes.

Mr Hazzard also said that Chinese citizens who do not have health insurance can attend hospital without worrying about costs.

"The tab will be picked up by the government," he said.

The other patients aboard flight MU749 on the 23rd of January that carried the 21-year-old woman with confirmed coronavirus are in the process of being contacted by health authorities.

China has locked down Hubei to stop the virus from spreading, and travel restrictions have been put in place outside the epicentre.

Beijing, Shanghai, Xi'an and Tianjin have also banned long-distance buses entering and leaving the cities.

The southern province of Guangdong, Jiangxi in central China and three other cities have made it mandatory for residents to wear face masks in public.

The update comes as the Australian Government is trying to co-ordinate the rescue of 100 Australian children from Wuhan in China, the epicentre of the deadly coronavirus outbreak.

It is understood the children, aged between six months and 16, were in Wuhan to celebrate the Lunar New Year, while others had been spending the summer holidays with family, according to The Australian.

"A lot of those children have been looked after by their grandparents there," one parent, named only as John, told The Australian.

"They are desperate to get out because (there is) a shortage of face masks and other protective supplies.

"Many children are running out of baby formula powders. They eat Australian baby formula and now there is a disruption in logistics."

A Chinese girl wears a protective mask as the reported number of coronavirus cases hit 2000. Picture: Getty
A Chinese girl wears a protective mask as the reported number of coronavirus cases hit 2000. Picture: Getty

Senator Payne said staff in her department were working with their Chinese counterparts to ­establish how many Australians were in Hubei province - and how best to get them home.

"Given the circumstances of the spread of the coronavirus, ­Chinese authorities are currently imposing very tight restrictions on all travel from Hubei," she said.

"We are seeking advice from the Chinese authorities on these restrictions and whether any ­options are available to international travellers."

Meanwhile, the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Australia could soon rise after a patient tested positive during a preliminary examination.

NSW health authorities have cleared four people who were being investigated for possible infection.

However results showed one patient who was being assessed had tested positive during initial examinations.

Confirmation was expected on Monday.

"Public health follow-up of this probable case is being undertaken in accordance with the national guidelines and the patient remains in isolation," NSW Health said in a statement on Sunday.

It the case is confirmed, it would bring the total number of infections nationally to five. There are presently three cases in NSW and one in Victoria.

The coronavirus death toll stands at 56 and nearly 2000 people have been infected worldwide, with British researchers speculating there could be nearly 200,000 people infected in Wuhan alone - where the virus originated - by early February.

Chinese health offical Gao Fu said the coronavirus was more contagious than the SARS outbreak of 2003 because the new virus can infect others during a victim's 14-day incubation period - not only when their symptoms are showing, which was the case with SARS.

A family wearing masks stands in Tiananmen Square. About 100 Australian school children are thought to be stranded in Wuhan. Picture: Betsy Joles/Getty Images
A family wearing masks stands in Tiananmen Square. About 100 Australian school children are thought to be stranded in Wuhan. Picture: Betsy Joles/Getty Images

Lunar New Year and other major events continue to be cancelled or moved from China because of the virus.

Sydney has been announced as the new host for Women's Olympic football qualifiers in February featuring Australia, China, Taiwan and Thailand after the matches were moved from Nanjing. The qualifiers were originally to have been played in Wuhan.

It comes after chief medical officer Professor Brendan Murphy said the number of cases in Australia could grow, amid concerns the deadly new coronavirus may be difficult to control.

He said he would send out a message to GPs across the country on how to handle patients who present with symptoms of the deadly illness.

Infectious disease specialists have also said the virus could be hard to control, estimating that cases could explode by early February.

A Chinese passenger on the last bullet train from Wuhan to Beijing is checked for a fever by a health worker at a Beijing railway station. Picture: Kevin Frayer/Getty
A Chinese passenger on the last bullet train from Wuhan to Beijing is checked for a fever by a health worker at a Beijing railway station. Picture: Kevin Frayer/Getty

Despite the alarming prediction, Prof Murphy said "there is no cause for general concern".

"I would not be surprised if there are some more cases ... it's highly likely that we may see them some more," Prof Murphy said.

"We are incredibly well prepared to isolate and deal with that."

Two of the men hospitalised in Sydney flew directly from the epicentre of the virus, Wuhan - a 53-year-old on January 20 and a 43-year-old two days prior. The third man, aged 35, arrived from the southern city of Shenzhen on January 6.

A fourth, also aged in his 50s, was Australia's first confirmed case of the virus after he touched down in Melbourne from Guangzhou on January 19.

The number of cases of coronavirus rose to 1975 in mainland China on Sunday. Authorities tightened restrictions on travel and tourism. Picture: Betsy Joles/Getty Images
The number of cases of coronavirus rose to 1975 in mainland China on Sunday. Authorities tightened restrictions on travel and tourism. Picture: Betsy Joles/Getty Images

Only the 53-year-old man is thought to have been contagious while travelling to Australia.

It comes as Australian authorities look at the possible extraction of citizens stuck in Wuhan after it was placed in lockdown in an attempt to curb the virus' spread.

Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne told The Daily Telegraph the federal government had sought advice from Chinese authorities about what could be done to help Australians in the Hubei province.

"Given the circumstances of the spread of the Coronavirus, Chinese authorities are currently imposing very tight restrictions on all travel from Hubei," she said.

"We are seeking advice from the Chinese authorities on these restrictions and whether any options are available to international travellers."

Chief medical officer Professor Brendan Murphy said there was “no cause for general concern” over the virus. Picture: AAP
Chief medical officer Professor Brendan Murphy said there was “no cause for general concern” over the virus. Picture: AAP

Two separate scientific analyses of the epidemic have shown each person infected with coronavirus is passing the disease on to between two and three other people on average at current transmission rates.

Whether the outbreak will continue to spread at this rate depends on the effectiveness of control measures, the scientists who conducted the studies said.

But to be able to contain the epidemic and turn the tide of infections, control measures would have to halt transmission in at least 60 per cent of cases.

"It is unclear at the current time whether this outbreak can be contained within China," said Neil Ferguson, an infectious disease specialist at Imperial College London who co-led one of the studies.

Ferguson's team suggested as many as 4000 people in Wuhan were already infected by January 18 and that on average each case was infecting two or three others.

A second study by researchers at Britain's Lancaster University also calculated the contagion rate at 2.5 new people on average being infected by each person already infected.

"Should the epidemic continue unabated in Wuhan, we predict (it) will be substantially larger by February 4," the scientists wrote.

They estimated that the central Chinese city of Wuhan where the outbreak began in December will alone have around 190,000 cases of infection by February 4, and that "infection will be established in other Chinese cities, and importations to other countries will be more frequent." Raina MacIntyre, head of the Biosecurity Research Program at the Kirby Institute, at the University of New South Wales said that it is highly concerning that in recent days the infection has become widespread.

"The more widespread the infection in other parts of the China, the greater the risk of more global spread," MacIntyre said.

 

'KILLER CORONAVIRUS ACCELERATING ITS SPEED'

Australia's first cases of the deadly coronavirus have been confirmed and other patients are waiting to learn their test results as hospitals at the epicentre of the emergency are overwhelmed with people struck by the virus.

A Chinese national in his 50s, who travelled from the city of Wuhan - the virus' epicentre - to Melbourne last week is the first known Australian to be struck down by the illness.

And three cases are now confirmed in New South Wales, where a further six people were being tested.

Nine people in Queensland have returned negative results for coronavirus, with authorities on Saturday still waiting on results from another possible case, The Australian reports.

Four people in South Australia were also being tested but authorities said it was unlikely they actually had the virus, with a man also being checked in a Hobart hospital.

NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard said two of the men had travelled to Sydney from Wuhan, while the third had travelled from the southern city of Shenzhen.

Chinese President Xi Jinping. Picture: AP
Chinese President Xi Jinping. Picture: AP

Chinese President Xi Jinping warned of a "grave situation" as he said the killer coronavirus was "accelerating its speed".

"As long as we have steadfast confidence, work together, scientific prevention and cures, and precise policies, we will definitely be able to win the battle," Xi said, after more countries reported cases.

In Melbourne, the Chinese national tested positive for the virus on Saturday morning after visiting a GP on Thursday and going to hospital on Friday.

He had been in the city of 11 million people before catching a flight to Melbourne from Guangzhou on January 19.

In Queensland, a female Chinese tourist with flu-like symptoms was taken to Gold Coast University Hospital today before a Chinese national male in his 40s, feared to have coronavirus was also admitted to hospital on the Gold Coast.

A child suspected of contracting the deadly coronavirus also prompted an emergency response at Sydney airport.

Health authorities were called just before midnight when the child began to display flu-like symptoms upon touching down.

Video still from Channel 9 of Sydney Children's Hospital where patients suspected of carrying the Coronavirus were taken after arriving at Sydney Airport. Source: Nine News
Video still from Channel 9 of Sydney Children's Hospital where patients suspected of carrying the Coronavirus were taken after arriving at Sydney Airport. Source: Nine News

They were reportedly rushed to the Sydney Children's Hospital at Randwick by paramedics in hazmat suits, but were later released after they were deemed to be clear of the virus.

NSW Health has confirmed five patients are currently quarantined and undergoing testing for the virus, but no cases have been confirmed.

A further two suspected cases were cleared on Friday.

NSW's chief health officer Kerry Chant said there were no confirmed cases and no one who had been tested related to the plane that landed in Sydney from Wuhan on Thursday.

"While we are waiting for the test results, they are in isolation so therefore they do not pose any risk of transmission," Mr Chant said.

"We do want to encourage everyone to come forward for testing. Anyone that has returned from Wuhan city or is a contact with a confirmed case anywhere, we really want you to present to get assessed."

The coronavirus has spread to Europe as Australian patients undergo testing and the death toll continues to rise.

WUHAN TO BUILD SECOND CORONAVIRUS HOSPITAL

Wuhan, the centre of the outbreak of the new coronavirus, will build a second dedicated hospital to treat patients, state media the People's Daily reported.

Construction of the hospital, designed to have 1300 beds, is scheduled to be completed in half a month.

Construction has started on the first dedicated hospital and is due to be finished by February 3.

Photos and video are emerging on China's social media platform Weibo showing overcrowded hospital corridors as doctors try to cope with waves of people seeking testing and treatment.

Footage from Wuhan's Red Cross Hospital showing patients on trolleys in an overcrowded corridor was shared on social media. This video shows medical staff standing near patients on trolleys in a crowded hallway at the hospital.

Medical staff are wearing adult nappies because they don't have time to use the toilet in between treating patients, it has been reported.

China's National Health Commission said it is bringing in medical teams from outside Hubei to help handle the outbreak, a day after videos circulating online showed throngs of frantic people in masks lined up for examinations and complaints that family members had been turned away at hospitals that were at capacity.

The Chinese military dispatched 450 medical staff, some with experience in past outbreaks including SARS and Ebola, who arrived in Wuhan late on Friday night to help treat the many patients in hospital with viral pneumonia, Xinhua reported. Xinhua also said that medical supplies are being rushed to the city, including 14,000 protective suits and 110,000 pairs of gloves from the central medical reserves as well as masks and goggles.

PROTESTERS TORCH QUARANTINE BUILDING

Protesters have set alight the lobby of a new residential building in Hong Kong that authorities planned to use as a quarantine facility for the coronavirus outbreak.

Sunday's fire was later put out by firefighters and the damage appeared to be confined to the lobby area. Hundreds of riot police also moved in, arresting at least one person.

As fears about the virus outbreak intensify, calls have grown for the Hong Kong government to block the financial hub's border with mainland China to minimise the risk of infection.

Earlier in the afternoon, hundreds of regular Hong Kong citizens had blocked roads leading to the building with bricks and other debris, to protest plans to convert the building into a quarantine zone as the number of confirmed cases in the city climbed to six.

A 28-year-old resident said the estate was too close to homes. "We are dissatisfied with the government selecting this housing estate as a (quarantine) separation village as it's very close to a residential area and a primary school," the resident said.

Direct train and flight connections to and from Wuhan have, however, been suspended.

Hong Kong authorities had earlier said they would convert Fai Ming Estate, an unoccupied public estate in Fanling, into temporary flats for quarantine and "observation of close contact persons without symptoms if needed".

But after the protest, the government said in a statement it would cease the "related preparation work in Fai Ming Estate".

Hong Kong health authorities said 107 people were now under quarantine, and there were 77 suspected cases.

The ability of the new coronavirus to spread is strengthening and infections could continue to rise, China's National Health Commission said on Sunday, with nearly 2000 people in China infected and 56 killed by the disease.

YEAR OF RAT CELEBRATIONS MUTED BY VIRUS

The outbreak put a dampener on Lunar New Year in China, the first day of the Year of the Rat.

Temples locked their doors, Beijing's Forbidden City, Shanghai Disneyland and other major tourist destinations closed, and people cancelled restaurant reservations ahead of the holiday, normally a time of family reunions, sightseeing trips and other festivities in the country of 1.4 billion people.

Chinese authorities scrapped many Lunar New Year celebrations to prevent the spread of the highly-contagious virus.

China cut off trains, planes and other links to Wuhan on Wednesday, as well as public transportation within the city, and has steadily expanded a lockdown to 16 surrounding cities with a combined population of more than 50 million.

Travel agencies were ordered to halt all group tours.

In Hong Kong, city leader Carrie Lam said her government will raise its response level to emergency, the highest one, and close primary and secondary schools for two more weeks on top of next week's Lunar New Year holiday. They will re-open Feb. 17.

Lam said that direct flights and trains from Wuhan would be blocked.

"We originally planned to go back to my wife's hometown and bought train tickets to depart this afternoon," said Li Mengbin, who was on a stroll by the moat of the closed Forbidden City.

"We ended up cancelling. But I'm still happy to celebrate the new year in Beijing, which I hadn't for several years."

People in Wuhan, where the outbreak started, and more than a dozen nearby cities are unable to move about easily or leave town after authorities shut down buses, trains and planes and set up roadblocks to limit the spread of the virus.

Shoppers wearing face masks at a supermarket in Wuhan. Picture: AP
Shoppers wearing face masks at a supermarket in Wuhan. Picture: AP

TRAVEL ALERT ON ALL FLIGHTS FROM CHINA

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has raised the level of travel advice for Wuhan and Hubei province to "do not travel" while the disease is now listed as having "pandemic potential" allowing border measures to be enhanced.

It comes as footage from Wuhan's Red Cross Hospital showing patients on trolleys in an overcrowded corridor was shared on social media. This video shows medical staff standing near patients on trolleys in a crowded hallway at the hospital

Passengers arriving on all flights from China are now being stopped and provided with health information about the virus, its symptoms and what to do if they become unwell.

Australia's Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy said it was important for people arriving from Wuhan, and those in close contact with them, to monitor for symptoms including fever, cough, sore throat, vomiting and difficulty breathing. Experts are still learning about the virus.

"We don't know exactly how long symptoms take to show after a person has been infected but there is an incubation period and some patients will have very mild symptoms," Professor Murphy said.

Wuhan is swiftly building a 1000-bed hospital dedicated to the disease. The prefabricated structure, slated for completion February 3, is modelled after a Beijing hospital built in 2003 for the SARS outbreak.

Workers driving excavators at the construction site of a field hospital in Wuhan. The builders will complete the 1000-bed hospital by February 3 to cope with the surge of 2019-nCoV patients in the city. Picture: Getty
Workers driving excavators at the construction site of a field hospital in Wuhan. The builders will complete the 1000-bed hospital by February 3 to cope with the surge of 2019-nCoV patients in the city. Picture: Getty

PARENTS 'ABANDON' KIDS AFTER FEVERISH SON BANNED FROM PLANE

A Chinese couple abandoned their two young kids at an airport after one of the youngsters was banned from flying due to coronavirus fears.

The family were reportedly trying to board a flight at Nanjing airport but the parents left their son and daughter by the departure gate after a scan showed the boy's body temperature was suspiciously high, The Sun reported.

CORONAVIRUS SPREADS ACROSS THE GLOBE

Two confirmed cases were announced in France by health minister Agnes Buzyn.

She said both of the infected people had travelled to China and she expects more cases.

One of the patients, a 48-year-old man, passed through Wuhan before travelling to France on Wednesday, the minister said.

The other person travelled to China, but the minister said she had little information about that case.

A further case has since been confirmed.

French health and solidarity minister Agnes Buzyn has announced two confirmed cases of coronavirus in France. Photo by Alain Jocard
French health and solidarity minister Agnes Buzyn has announced two confirmed cases of coronavirus in France. Photo by Alain Jocard

Meanwhile, a second US case of the new coronavirus has been confirmed in a patient in Chicago, according to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

The patient, a woman in her 60s and a Chicago resident, had travelled to Wuhan, China, in December.

She was admitted to the hospital and is in stable condition, according to Illinois health officials.

"We understand that some people are worried about this virus and how it may impact Americans," Dr Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC's National Centre for Immunisation and Respiratory Diseases said at a Friday news briefing.

"The immediate risk to the US public is low at this time," Dr Messonnier said.

The US is arranging a charter flight on Sunday to bring its citizens and diplomats back from Wuhan, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Sixty-three people in the US are being evaluated to determine if they have coronavirus. Of those individuals, 11 have tested negative and two have tested positive for the virus.

Health authorities in Nepal also confirmed that a student who returned from Wuhan, China tested positive for the coronavirus, becoming the first South Asian country to report the deadly disease.

Passengers arrive at Sydney International Airport on January 23. The flight from Wuhan departed the Chinese city prior to officials temporarily closing down transport from the city to help stop the outbreak of a strain of coronavirus. Picture: Getty
Passengers arrive at Sydney International Airport on January 23. The flight from Wuhan departed the Chinese city prior to officials temporarily closing down transport from the city to help stop the outbreak of a strain of coronavirus. Picture: Getty

The health commission in Hubei, a Northern Province bordering Beijing, said an 80-year-old man died after showing symptoms upon his return from a two-month stay in Wuhan to see relatives. His is the first death outside Hubei province.

Symptoms of the virus include a cough, sore throat, fever. runny nose or headache.

University of Queensland researchers are working round the clock to develop a vaccine for the deadly coronavirus in less than six months.

PANIC, SECRECY ARE PUBLIC ENEMY NO. 1

Secrecy, panic and sloppy infection control will be the enemies as the world tries to contain a deadly new coronavirus for which there is no cure and no vaccine.

China this week locked down eight cities in the province of Hubei - home to 18 million people and the epicentre of the infection - as it tried to stop the virus which has already spread to four other countries.

Passengers arriving at the Sydney International Airport on Thursday from Wuhan. Picture: Don Arnold/Getty
Passengers arriving at the Sydney International Airport on Thursday from Wuhan. Picture: Don Arnold/Getty

The World Health Organisation is on alert and Australia's Health Department has activated its national incident room to monitor and control the virus if it reaches our shores.

In Australia millions of face masks have been stockpiled, suspected cases are being tested and travellers from China are being checked at the airport but there have been no confirmed cases here.

Passenger Kevin Ouyang of flight MU749 from Wuhan, China, to Sydney at the international airport on Thursday. Picture: Flavio Brancaleone
Passenger Kevin Ouyang of flight MU749 from Wuhan, China, to Sydney at the international airport on Thursday. Picture: Flavio Brancaleone

However, Australia's Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy said it was "quite likely" the virus would reach Australia because there was so much traffic between Australia and China.

Experts said the first step in containing the virus in Australia was a simple question - have you travelled overseas recently or been in contact with someone who did?

It should be compulsory for every hospital to put this question on admission forms and GPs too should ask it of their patients because it is the best way of identifying who is at risk, ANU epidemiologist and infectious diseases specialist Professor Peter Collignon said.

"They ask you to provide your Medicare card but how hard is it to ask a question about travel? I've been trying to get it made compulsory for years," Prof Collignon said.

Staff from flight MU749 from Wuhan, China, which landed into Sydney on Thursday. Picture: Flavio Brancaleone
Staff from flight MU749 from Wuhan, China, which landed into Sydney on Thursday. Picture: Flavio Brancaleone

It is one of the key lessons we should have learned from the failure to stop the spread of two other deadly coronaviruses SARS in 2003 and MERS in 2012.

Another is that hospitals, GPs and other health facilities must isolate sick travellers and not allow them to sit in the waiting room for hours infecting others, Head of the Biosecurity Research Program at the Kirby Institute at University NSW Prof Raina McIntyre said.

Anyone carrying the virus should be kept in a negative pressure room, which sucks the air out via a ventilator, Sydney University infectious diseases expert Adam Kamradt-Scott added, who warned there was only a limited supply of such rooms.

And caution needs to be applied when health workers use nebulisers to help infected people breathe because these can quickly spread the virus to others within a one to two metre radius, he said.

In 2002 during the SARS outbreak exemplary infection control in Vancouver, Canada stopped the spread of the virus in that city but poor infection control in hospitals in Toronto, on the other side of the country, saw nurses and doctors catch the disease and die.

Already at least 14 healthcare workers in China have been infected by the new coronavirus.

The other failure in the 2002 SARS outbreak was secrecy.

 

China was not open with international health authorities about the scale of the problem or the death toll, initial signs are it is being more prudent this time.

The Australian Medical Association wants Australia to set up a Centre for Disease Control to manage outbreaks like this and says we are one of the few developed countries without one.

It is now 26 days since the first case of the potentially fatal 2019 coronavirus was reported in the central Chinese city of Wuhan and it has already spread to four other countries - Thailand, Japan, South Korea and the United States.

The spread of the virus has been fuelled in part by mass travel associated with the Chinese Lunar New Year celebrations this weekend.

Coronaviruses are a family of viruses causing illnesses from the common cold to severe illnesses, typically they infect animals but a few affect humans like Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).

This latest coronavirus is new to humans so we have no immunity to it.

The first patient to die from the virus was a 61-year-old man who shopped at the Huanan Seafood Market in Wuhan, which sells live animals and exotic meats including poultry, snakes, bats, young wolves and civet cats (previously linked to SARS).

Researchers who studied the virus reported in the Journal Medical Virology this week it may have been transmitted to humans via a snake and the virus appeared to be a mix of a bat coronavirus and snake coronaviruses.

Chinese authorities have now confirmed the disease is spreading from human to human via droplets from sneezes and coughing and via surface contact with objects touched by those infected.

Prof Collignon said the way epidemiologists calculate whether a new virus was likely to go "boom" and spread quickly was its R0 factor or its reproductive ratio.

This factor represents the average number of people one person with the disease can infect.

For example one person with measles can infect eight others but if a virus has an R factor of less than one it will die out.

A Chinese woman wearing a protective mask as she leaves a Beijing railway station. Picture: Kevin Frayer/Getty
A Chinese woman wearing a protective mask as she leaves a Beijing railway station. Picture: Kevin Frayer/Getty

In 2002 one "super spreader" of the SARS virus, a Chinese doctor who stayed in a hotel in Hong Kong, gave the virus to 16 others in a single night and 14 of them travelled overseas the next day.

"On the evidence so far this virus is less transmissible than SARS," Prof Collignon said.

The other factor that makes the disease worrying is its capacity to kill.

Some coronaviruses can have severe death tolls.

The MER virus has a fatality rate of 26 per cent, SARS had a fatality rate of 12 per cent.

To date the 2019 coronavirus is estimated to have a fatality rate of around two to three per cent and growing, is similar to the 1918 flu pandemic and compares to the fatality rate from the regular flu of less than one per cent.

Chinese passengers arriving to board trains before the annual Spring Festival at a Beijing railway station. Picture: Kevin Frayer/Getty
Chinese passengers arriving to board trains before the annual Spring Festival at a Beijing railway station. Picture: Kevin Frayer/Getty

However, Chief Medical officer Brendan Murphy said the death rate may really be much lower as many people with the virus may have a mild form and never present to health authorities so they would not be counted.

The disease is hard to detect because symptoms could be as mild as a common cold but in severe cases it can cause severe pneumonia, fever, shortness of breath and death.

China has sequenced the genome of the virus and shared it with the World Health Organisation.

German and Hong Kong scientists have already developed tests for it.

Most of the people killed by the virus so far have been elderly or already had health problems which have made them more vulnerable to the illness.

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.

There is currently no medicine to treat any coronavirus so doctors can only provide supportive care to those with severe symptoms.

A policeman using a digital thermometer to take a driver’s temperature at a highway toll gate check out in Wuhan. Picture: Chinatopix via AP
A policeman using a digital thermometer to take a driver’s temperature at a highway toll gate check out in Wuhan. Picture: Chinatopix via AP

They can give medicine to raise a person's blood pressure, antibiotics to control secondary infections, provide machines to help support a person's breathing and kidney function while their own body fights the virus.

Australia has a stockpile of antiviral medicines like Tamiflu but Mr Kamradt-Scott said it could only reduce the duration of the virus by 24 hours.

In the US doctors believe a trial antiviral called remdesivir was found to be effective against Nipah virus (another bat virus) in monkeys and may be of use.

With a scientific solution and a vaccine months away the best way to control the virus is through good public health measures.

Experts have praised China for this week locking down the province where the virus originated and for sharing information on the mounting number of cases and the genome of the virus.

The World Health Organisation stopped short of declaring the virus a public health emergency of international concern.

Passengers from an international flight having their temperature checked as they pass a thermal scanner monitor upon arrival at the Adisucipto International Airport in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. Picture: Ulet Ifansasti/Getty
Passengers from an international flight having their temperature checked as they pass a thermal scanner monitor upon arrival at the Adisucipto International Airport in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. Picture: Ulet Ifansasti/Getty

If it had done so it 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.

"One possibility is the Chinese Government wanted to avoid that," Mr Kamradt-Scott said, adding China quarantined Wuhan to prevent a situation where the World Health Organisation started telling them what to do.

Declaring the disease a public health emergency could also trigger travel and trade embargoes on affected countries as happened with the ebola epidemic.

These could hinder the containment of the virus as well as wreck the economy of affected countries.

Australia has made coronavirus a notifiable disease, which means doctors must report any cases to health authorities so they can contain the spread.

State and federal health authorities have made it clear they are prepared to use powers to quarantine people with the illness as happened during the swine flu epidemic.

The NSW government has set up an isolation ward at Sydney's Westmead Hospital.

Australian Medical Association president Dr Tony Bartone said anyone who suspected they were carrying the disease should contact their doctor and isolate themselves in their home and cover their nose and mouth when sneezing and coughing.

The elderly and those with pre-existing health conditions should steer clear of airports and other areas where lots of people gather, use face masks and wash their hands with hand sanitiser regularly.



Environmental crusader sets toilets on fire

premium_icon Environmental crusader sets toilets on fire

More than $200,000 worth of damage targeting property developers

DETAIL: Virus number remains stable in West Moreton

premium_icon DETAIL: Virus number remains stable in West Moreton

The number of cases has stagnated after rising for three weeks.

Family success comes from sticking together

premium_icon Family success comes from sticking together

The Ipswich parents have plenty to be proud of during a difficult time in regional...