‘Pandemic potential’ as death toll tops 100

THE death toll for the new coronavirus has topped 100 people, as Australia declares the outbreak has "pandemic potential".

International health authorities are warning they still don't know if the disease is contagious during its incubation period - before symptoms even begin to show.

It has now spread throughout Asia, as well as Germany, France, the US and Canada, with five cases confirmed in Australia.

Chief Medical Officer Professor Brendan Murphy says there is still no need for the Australian public to be concerned or wearing masks in public. Picture: AAP Image/Mick Tsikas
Chief Medical Officer Professor Brendan Murphy says there is still no need for the Australian public to be concerned or wearing masks in public. Picture: AAP Image/Mick Tsikas

But local health authorities are urging people to stay calm, even as an influx of Australians is expected to be returning from China following Lunar New Year celebrations.

Six Queenslanders were tested and cleared of the virus yesterday, Queensland's Chief Health Officer Dr Jeannette Young confirmed yesterday.

The National Security Committee, headed by Prime Minister Scott Morrison, is meeting every few days and updating border protection measures.

The Federal Government says the country has measures in place to identify and isolate potentially infected people.

Despite this Health Minister Greg Hunt confirmed that the number of infected people in Australia will rise, as the outbreak continues.

While the World Health Organisation was yet to declare the new coronavirus as a "pandemic of global significance", Mr Hunt declared it had pandemic potential.

 

 

"We have some of the strongest border protection measures in place around the world and we have biosecurity officials boarding all planes from China looking for symptoms," he said.

"The Prime Minister has ordered all planes coming from China are boarded by security officials and that's an extremely important measure.

"Every passenger is met with by biosecurity officials and not only are they provided with information, but there is a review of their symptoms and the situation."

Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy said there was still no cause for concern for Australians at this stage.

"There is no human to human transmission of this virus (in Australia) … There is no need for the Australian public to wear masks," Prof Murphy said.

"All of the cases that we've detected so far came here when there wasn't major concern about the disease internationally."

Prime Minister Scott Morrison
Prime Minister Scott Morrison

Prof Murphy said quarantining of people coming off flights in China and travel bans were not of public health value at the moment.

But the WHO said it remained unclear if the coronavirus was contagious during its incubation period.

It has continued to quickly spread, with more than 4000 cases confirmed worldwide, including more than 2700 in China alone.

Up to 400 Australians are believed to still be in Hubei after Chinese authorities locked down the area in a bid to limit the spread of the new coronavirus.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison confirmed he had spoken with New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to discuss ways the two countries could assist their citizens caught up in the event.

"The Australian Government, through our embassy, is looking to deploy, working with the Chinese Government consular officials into Hubei Province, into Wuhan," Mr Morrison said.