Australia has upgraded its travel advice for a city considered ground zero for the outbreak of a new SARS-like virus after a man was quarantined.
Australia has upgraded its travel advice for a city considered ground zero for the outbreak of a new SARS-like virus after a man was quarantined.

Travel warning for ground zero city of deadly virus

Australians have been advised to exercise a "high degree of caution" if travelling to the Chinese city of Wuhan, ground zero for the outbreak of a new SARS-like virus, as a Brisbane man is tested for the disease.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced Australia has upgraded its travel advice for Wuhan City to level 2 after he was briefed on the coronavirus by the Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy on Tuesday afternoon.

"The CMO has advised that while the current risk level is low, precautions are being taken to protect Australians," he said on Twitter.

"I urge all Australians travelling to check the DFAT Smartraveller website for specific updates."

Mr Morrison said Prof Murphy and all state and territory medical officials have initiated measures to "mitigate infectious persons entering Australia".

"We are well prepared to respond to this situation and we will continue to monitor and take action where necessary," he said.

The Prime Minister's message follows news that a man who recently returned to Australia from Wuhan in China is being tested for a deadly new strain of coronavirus.

Queensland Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young said the man was in isolation in Brisbane at the moment and it would take a few days to confirm if he is suffering from the virus.

The patient has family in Wuhan.

Dr Young said she's sent out advice to all GPs, emergency departments, private hospitals and clinics to be aware of the virus.

 

"So, at this stage, anyone who returns from Wuhan … if they develop any respiratory symptoms - you know, a cough, fever, sore throat - then we're asking GPs and emergency departments to collect certain specimens and to send them to Brisbane to be tested," she said.

"Plus, we're then asking people to remain reasonably isolated."

Dr Young said the virus was transmitted through the air.

"Initially it's thought that it probably came from animals at their live market in Wuhan, from the animals to the people," she said.

"Last night the World Health Organisation confirmed that there has been human-to-human spread.

"From China, we understand that they've seen around 200 cases admitted to hospital, and out of those, about nine or so have been serious.

A traveller wears a face mask as he walks outside Beijing Railway Station after a sharp rise in the number of people infected with a new coronavirus, including the first cases in the capital. Picture: Mark Schiefelbein
A traveller wears a face mask as he walks outside Beijing Railway Station after a sharp rise in the number of people infected with a new coronavirus, including the first cases in the capital. Picture: Mark Schiefelbein

 

"So, it's a variable virus in terms of its impact, as we know with a lot of viruses."

At least three people have died since the virus was detected in Wuhan, a province in central China in December.

More than 220 cases have been reported since the outbreak in Wuhan, prompting many Asian countries and the US to begin screening passengers arriving from China on the weekend.

Australian authorities dismissed the need for screening on Sunday, but have since announced new measures today.

Australia's Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy said the new screening measures would focus on a direct flight from Wuhan City to Sydney, which flies three times a week.

Border Force staff and NSW Health biosecurity officers will meet passengers arriving on this flight from its next scheduled arrival on Thursday.

"They 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," Prof Murphy said.

"If anyone has a fever or suspect they might have this disease and if they are suspected of having this condition, NSW Health will follow up as per our normal border security and biosecurity protocols."

There are 160 flights from China to Australia every week and authorities are now assessing if further screening is needed.

It comes as health officials confirmed the new coronavirus can be transmitted between humans.

Prof Murphy said temperature scanning at airports would not be used because it was found to be "ineffective" during the swine flu outbreak in 2009.

"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 now how to get medical attention.

Prof Murphy said there was "no way of preventing (the virus) getting into the country if this becomes bigger".

"We need to respond to it as we always do," he said.