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Australia health officials in talks over new coronavirus, as number of cases triple

Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy said that while Australia was continuing to monitor the situation closely, there was “still no cause for alarm”.

“Australia has well-established mechanisms to detect and respond to ill travellers, and processes in place to add to these if risk increases,” Professor Murphy said.

There are three direct flights per week between Wuhan and Sydney.

Medical staff transfer patients to hospital in Wuhan.

Medical staff transfer patients to hospital in Wuhan.Credit:Getty Images

So far, Australia has not increased screening measures at airports. However, at least half a dozen countries in Asia have begun screening programs, and the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has started screening passengers arriving from Wuhan at three airports.

Early cases of the virus, known as 2019-nCoV, were first linked to a seafood market in Wuhan, which has since been closed down.

However, the World Health Organisation and other health authorities have now noted there is evidence of limited human-to-human transmission of the disease. In Wuhan alone, there have been 198 cases of 2019-nCoV, with 136 of those detected over the weekend.

Associate Professor Adam Kamradt-Scott, from the Centre for International Security Studies at the University of Sydney, said 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.”

Professor Murphy said he met with his state and territory counterparts in the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee to discuss Australia’s response to the new virus on Monday afternoon.

“The department is also actively discussing the matter with the Department of Agriculture, which manages Australia’s biosecurity at the border, including human health, and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, which manages travel advice through Smartraveller,” he said.

Chinese authorities said the outbreak was “still preventable and controllable” and added it would increase monitoring over the Lunar New Year period that starts this week, to reassure the public as hundreds of millions of people prepare to travel before the country’s biggest annual holiday.

A health surveillance officer monitors passengers arriving at the Hong Kong International airport.

A health surveillance officer monitors passengers arriving at the Hong Kong International airport.Credit:AP

The novel coronavirus is notable because of similarities with the one that sparked Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS, 17 years ago. Unlike SARS, which killed almost 800 people, the 2019-nCov isn’t known to have spread to health workers.

“The source of the new type of coronavirus has not been found, we do not fully understand how the virus is transmitted, and changes in the virus still need to be closely monitored,” China’s National Health Commission said on Sunday.

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses, some causing illness in people, and others that circulate among animals, including camels, cats and bats, the CDC said. Animal coronaviruses rarely evolve and infect people and then spread between people.

With AAP, Bloomberg

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