New virus has authorities on alert as death toll rises

Australia to screen passengers on flights from China in a bid to detect the SARS-like virus that has killed 17 people.

airport security

UPDATED: With more travellers on the move in the lead-up to Chinese New Year, a deadly new pneumonia-type virus that originated in China has health authorities in Australia on high alert.

Australia will screen passengers on key flights from China – and a number of countries across the globe are doing the same – in a bid to detect the SARS-like virus, which can be transmitted by human contact and has infected 220 and killed 17. A Brisbane man returning from China was tested and released from home isolation. 

SARS – Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome – killed almost 800 people 17 years ago.

The first outbreak of this coronavirus – a family of viruses that can cause illness in people and animals – was in Wuhan City in China on New Year’s Eve and is linked to a seafood market that has since been closed down. Chinese health authorities have confirmed that the virus is spreading to humans who had not frequented the market.

Australia’s chief medical officer, Professor Brendan Murphy, said late last week that screening at points of entry into Australia was unnecessary. However, after confirmed cases in the US, Thailand, Japan, South Korea and a number of Chinese cities, screening measures have been put in place.

Australian Border Force staff and NSW health authorities will focus on the thrice-weekly direct flights from Wuhan City to Sydney. But authorities will also assess the 160 direct flights from China each week, as well as the hundreds of indirect flights.

“[Authorities] will be providing to all the passengers an information pamphlet in English and Mandarin, outlining the symptoms this disease might deliver and asking them to identify themselves at the border,” Mr Murphy said. “If anyone has a fever or suspect they might have this disease, and if they are suspected of having this condition, New South Wales Health will follow up as per our normal border security and biosecurity protocols.”

Symptoms include fever, coughing, tightness of the chest and shortness of breath, with scans of some patients showing fluid in the lungs consistent with viral pneumonia.

Temperature scanning was conducted at airports during the 2009 swine flu pandemic, but was found to be ineffective and would not be reinstated, Mr Murphy said, even though a case in Thailand was reportedly detected by an airport temperature scanner.

“It [temperature scanning] missed a large number of cases,” he said, “cases that may be incubating or afebrile. It leads to a false sense of security. It’s not an effective public health mechanism.”

Mr Murphy said that despite all precautions, there was no failsafe way to keep the virus out of the country.

“The important thing to remember is with border screening you cannot absolutely prevent the spread of disease into the country,” he said.

“The incubation period is probably a week. Many people who have this may present as asymptomatic. So, it’s about identifying those with a high risk and making sure those who have a high risk know about it and know how to get medical attention.”

Mr Murphy said the health department was in discussions with the department of foreign affairs and trade about providing some specific advice for Wuhan “as the evolving situation requires”.

Concerned travellers should check on Smartraveller for the latest advice.

Associate Professor Adam Kamradt-Scott, from the Centre for International Security Studies at the University of Sydney, told The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald that while authorities were “operating in the dark to a certain degree”, there was no evidence of “widespread human-to-human transmission”.

“Otherwise we'd be seeing a large number of cases, far beyond what we've currently got.”

Will this virus upset your travel plans? Will you be extra vigilant for the symptoms?

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    To make a comment, please register or login
    22nd Jan 2020
    Wasn't planning on going to China or even any luna new year events, so no I won't be changing anything.
    22nd Jan 2020
    China. Taking over the south pacific, spreading deadly diseases into healthy countries, building their military arsenal, threatening Western countries if anyone dare criticise their regime, using unfriendly economic tactics on and on it goes. What I'd like to see is a complete halt to all Chinese travel between their country and ours until they resolve whatever current transmissible disease problems they have. If Australian safety cannot be guaranteed, stop this scourge at its source. Thank you.
    22nd Jan 2020
    I couldn't agree more! China is a threat to the whole world.

    22nd Jan 2020
    The most obvious solution is to stop all travel to and from China - a country well-known for its unsanitary practices.

    22nd Jan 2020
    "Australia’s chief medical officer, Professor Brendan Murphy, said late last week that screening at points of entry into Australia was unnecessary." Unbelievable!

    How DUMB was that comment, especially as there are 3 flights per week landing in Sydney from Wuhan? In fact, ALL airlines should have a check if ANY passengers came from Wuhan or any other affected city, as part of their itinerary, and they MUST be checked on entry. In any case, all flights from China.
    Prevention is better than a cure - in this case, as with SARS (or even the bush fires), you can't fix the problem once people die.
    22nd Jan 2020
    No need to panic, just another "deadly" virus, cold like symptoms. The media love to panic the masses every now and again with new "deadly" viruses, do you know anyone who got the SARS virus?
    Here is a copy and paste info I found:
    What do we know about the virus?
    There is little known about the virus. So far, officials have confirmed:

    Coronaviruses are common among animals and in rare cases, such as this, they can transmit from animal to human.
    The virus affects the respiratory system, with cold-like symptoms such as; cough, runny nose, sore throat, and fever.
    There is no specific treatment at this stage. In many cases, symptoms will go away on their own. In more severe cases, it can develop into pneumonia.
    22nd Jan 2020
    Agree Musicveg, the whole thing seems totally overblown to me. In a city of 11 million the deaths of 6 people seems miniscule (unless you happen to be one of the 6). True many contagious diseases can kill people, particularly susceptible groups such as the elderly and infants, but most afflicted people recover. It happens almost every 'flu' season and we do not react with such irrationality. I am sure it is not a Chinese conspiracy, as Brissiegirl appears to suggest, but a public health problem which will be quickly overcome with an appropriate vaccine. No need to panic. I have no plans to visit Asia so I am not unduly concerned.
    17th Mar 2020
    Your comments are really frightening Musicveg and Eddy. I hope so much that no-one takes much notice of them. If your comments encourage people to drop their guard, you could possibility have the weight of reponsibility for people becoming ill or worse.

    Once again Musicveg,you set yourself up above trained medical people downplaying the dangers of this virus.

    The last pandemic was in 2009, Flu A (H1N1) and killed between 100,000 and 400,000 people in the first year alone.

    I think that the concept of pandemic is so foreign to people on the whole, that they downplay it, or like me, find it hard to get their heads around.

    If this virus gets into any of the the 59 recognised refugee camps around the world (there about 1.4 million people in camps in Jordan alone), the horror will be unimaginable.

    Yes, a vaccine will surely be developed, but that won't happen for months yet, and then getting people vaccinated will be a huge exercise.
    18th Mar 2020
    Sorry Maggie,forgot my disclaimer "this is not meant to be taken as medical advice it is merely and opinion" , I do recognize that it is dangerous for some people but not everyone, most will only have mild symptoms and we will build up immunity naturally anyway if you are healthy, for those you are not healthy of course they need to take extra care. I just think that the fear factor that the media is spewing out every day is really making people suffer a lot of anxiety and causing panic and this alone is not healthy for the community.

    Those in refugee camps are suffering from a lot of sickness already and it is terrible that there is many millions of people worldwide who live in appalling conditions too.
    More people are dying every day from preventable diseases.
    23rd Jan 2020
    Was in Guanzhou China 2 weeks ago huge airport with thousands of people passing through each day I don't think they could fully control this.I personally have changed flights back as I wont take the chance as a lot of these peoples hygiene is not that great

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