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How deadly is COVID-19? How are pregnant women affected? Your questions answered

Cases of COVID-19 are rising rapidly in Australia as the pandemic takes hold. More than 18,000 people have already died of the mystery illness worldwide. Whole cities are going into lockdown, the world’s busiest tourist spots deserted, the Olympics postponed for a year, and businesses and borders closed. To stem the spread of the virus, we are told to live our lives further apart – literally – by avoiding gatherings, staying home and keeping 1.5 metres clear of each other. And this will likely be the norm for at least six months.

It seems a long time ago that we learned a new kind of coronavirus, a dangerous kind, had jumped from animals into humans, thousands of kilometres away in China. But it is only three months. And, still, we’re on a steep learning curve about this virus and the illness it causes, COVID-19. So far, more than 2400 people have been infected in Australia and eight have died.

As the pandemic shuts down more of daily life, questions from you, our readers, are flooding in. Our explainer team, as well as our health, science and data reporters, will answer as many of them as we can in the coming weeks. And when new information comes to light, we’ll bring you updates too. Here’s what we know so far.

What’s the death rate?

Calculating the mortality rate of a pandemic that is still spreading is an imprecise science – people may be diagnosed or succumb to the illness further down the line. Based on the first 55,000-odd cases recorded in China, the WHO estimates the fatality rate so far as 3.4 per cent. But, given so many milder cases will go under the radar, most experts, including the WHO, agree the true number is likely closer to 1 per cent. That makes it deadlier than the flu but less dangerous than the other two rare coronaviruses to emerge in humans: SARS-CoV, which also caused global panic when it exploded onto the scene in late 2002, and MERS-CoV, which causes a condition more deadly again known as MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome). On the raw figures so far, about 417,000 people have been infected worldwide – 18,000 have died but 107,000 have already officially recovered.

Am I going to die?

Data out of China found most people (about 80 per cent) recovered from the new virus on their own, even if they developed pneumonia. But about one in five needed more serious medical intervention (such as ventilation to help them breathe) and, of those, 6 per cent were pushed into critical care – as multiple organs began to fail along with the lungs, or septic shock (whole-body infection) set in.

Anyone can catch the virus – but people most at risk of complications are older or have other conditions such as diabetes or heart disease, making their bodies may be less able to cope with the extra strain. Smokers are also more likely to develop a nasty infection, as the virus breeds via cell receptors in the lungs known to increase with cigarette smoke. Experts say the higher the dose of virus you are hit with, the faster you will show symptoms and the more dangerous it can be for your immune system to fight off. For example, catching the virus from a doorknob is likely to give you a smaller dose than caring for an infected person without protective clothing such as a mask. For more on how the new virus affects the body and what it feels like to get it, you can read this explainer here.

Where are the new confirmed cases occurring?

Aged care facilities, hospitals, universities, bars and cruises – as the number of COVID-19 cases in NSW rises, the geographic spread of the infection also expands across the state. Sydney’s north-west initially emerged as the centre of the city’s outbreak with several early cases linked to the Dorothy Henderson Lodge aged care facility, Ryde Hospital, St Patrick’s Marist College and Epping Boys High School. But hundreds of cases have since been connected to a wedding venue in Sydney’s south-west, universities across the city, a bar and club in Sydney’s east, a school near Port Macquarie and cruise ships that have docked at Circular Quay. A NSW Health spokesman said it considers releasing information to be a breach of privacy if it “serves no public health benefit” but it “promptly notifies the public of any locations, including on public transport, where there has been a risk of infection”. Residential or work locations have not been released for most cases, including almost all with links to international travel, which is why the big red “Other” dot is shown on the map below.

In Victoria, a hospital and a university are also among places where infections were found but the extent of clusters hasn’t been as great as in NSW. Of 455 confirmed cases by March 25, 386 were in Greater Melbourne and 47 in regional Victoria (while for a further 33 cases this information is not yet available). Victoria’s Department of Health and Human Services has not been publishing figures broken down to local government area level in Melbourne, but is now providing daily totals for rural and regional areas. Multiple cases have occurred in the regional local government areas of Greater Geelong (11), Ballarat (5), Baw Baw (2), Greater Shepparton (2), Surf Coast (2), Warrnambool (2), Latrobe (2), Macedon Ranges (2), Mitchell (4) and Mount Alexander (3). Bass Coast, East Gippsland, Gannawarra, Hepburn, Mildura, Moira, Moyne, Moorabool, Northern Grampians, South Gippsland, Wellington and Yarriambiack had all recorded a case each by March 25.

This map shows the regional local government areas in Victoria where at least one confirmed case of coronavirus has been recorded as of March 25. Metropolitan local government areas do not show up on this map. 

This map shows the regional local government areas in Victoria where at least one confirmed case of coronavirus has been recorded as of March 25. Metropolitan local government areas do not show up on this map. Credit:Craig Butt, map made using Tableau

How does COVID-19 compare to the flu?

“Let’s stop saying it’s a bad flu,” pleaded doctor Daniele Macchini, from the northern Italian city of Bergamo, where the virus had gained a deadly foothold. Patients inundating intensive care wards had “far from the complications of a flu”, the doctor wrote on Facebook in March. While flu has many of the same symptoms and results in tens of thousands of deaths worldwide every year, COVID-19 is more than 10 times deadlier. In Australia, government figures for the most recent flu season ending October 2019 show 812 people died of influenza out of 298,120 reported cases – a fatality rate of about 0.27%. Emerging coronaviruses such as this strain and SARS can also do more damage to the body, particularly the lungs. And the new virus is more infectious than the flu, or SARS and MERS, with one COVID-19 patient likely to infect between two and three others.

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How long will the pandemic last?

That’s the big question. This virus’s closest relative, SARS, while deadly, spread more slowly and to far fewer countries and so early containment efforts worked to wipe it out, largely within a year. For COVID-19, many experts are instead drawing parallels with the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic, which killed millions around the world because it spread so far. The good news is medicine has taken a quantum leap forward since then. Still, modelling by the Imperial College London suggests countries will need to use control measures such as social distancing, aggressive case detection, even shutdowns right through until a vaccine becomes available – between 12 and 18 months.

How fast is it spreading?

The virus has now reached most of the world – more than 170 countries, and the World Health Organisation warns it is “accelerating”. It took the virus 67 days to infect the first 100,000 people, just 11 to reach 200,000 and four to top 300,000. In Australia, the number of cases is now doubling every three-and-half days. Outside China, major clusters of the virus have broken out in Italy, where hospitals have been pushed to the brink as well as the US, Spain, Germany, Iran, France and South Korea.

What are other countries doing to ‘flatten the curve’?

Some, including much of Europe, are now turning to the “China model” of forced home quarantines and transport shutdowns to stop the virus. But experts note that China, as well as countries such as Singapore, Taiwan and South Korea, have also started to “flatten their curve” of infection growth through exhaustive testing, contact tracing of known cases and community take-up of “social distancing” measures such as working from home or taking schools online.

China’s success so far means it is already starting to relax many of its lockdowns, even as it braces for a potential second wave. In Italy and now other countries like Spain, France and the UK, people are only allowed to leave their homes to run essential errands like grabbing groceries (and they must queue 1.5 metres apart).

Is a cold or COVID-19?

The main symptoms of the new coronavirus are:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath

A patient might also complain of chills, headaches or a sore throat, and nausea or diarrhea have also been reported, though not in the numbers seen during SARS. Less than five per cent of cases so far involve a blocked nose (a common sign of a regular cold not COVID-19).

Don’t coronaviruses only cause colds?

Coronaviruses are a family of viruses causing respiratory illness mostly found in animals. Only seven have been identified in humans, including the four that commonly give us coughs and colds. But when a new strain jumps across from wildlife, such as SARS and now this new strain, it can be dangerous as there is no natural immunity to fight it off.

How does the virus affect pregnant women – and babies?

At this early stage, we are still not absolutely sure how the virus effects women and babies. Different governments have offered different advice.
For now, let’s stick to what Australia’s peak body, the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RANZOG), has to say. Note these guidelines are changing regularly and you should check back on their website for the most up-to-date advice. According to guidelines, at this stage it does not appear that pregnant women are at greater risk from COVID-19 than the rest of the population. Most will get mild symptoms, similar to a cold or flu. There are no reported deaths in pregnant women.

However, generally pregnant women who get any respiratory disease, such as the flu, are at an increased risk of serious complications. This fact, combined with scientists not knowing enough about the virus, means pregnant women should remain vigilant of their own health. There is no evidence of an increased risk of miscarriage or birth abnormalities, nor is there evidence the virus can pass from woman to unborn child. Newborn babies do not appear to be at increased risk of infection. There is no evidence the virus can be carried in breast milk. “The safest place to birth your baby is in a hospital, where you have access to highly trained staff and emergency facilities,” the guidelines state. If the mother is infected at the time of birth, she should not be separated from her newborn, but should wear a mask and take standard hygiene precautions. The health advice is the same for pregnant women as it is for everyone else: work from home, avoid public places, and nail your hand hygiene.

Are pregnant women allowed to have a support person in the labour ward with them?

The RANZCOG guidelines suggest visitors in hospital are limited only to the immediate partner. But this is just a suggestion – different hospitals will have different rules.

Why are there so many names for the virus?

Because it’s new, at first the virus was known simply as the “novel” coronavirus. Then the WHO named it SARS-CoV-2, given it shares so much of its DNA – about 75 per cent – with the SARS-CoV strain behind the SARS outbreak. The illness caused by this current strain is now called COVID-19.

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Where did the virus come from?

The illness was first identified in a wet market reported to sell wild animals in the Chinese city of Wuhan. Unfounded theories that the virus is man-made quickly began to circulate online but scientists studying its genome already agree it came from animals – as more than 70 per cent of all new diseases emerging in humans do. Wild animals packed together and then butchered in live markets throughout Asia can be incubators for viruses to evolve and jump species barriers – SARS was traced back to a colony of bats but was believed to have passed into humans again in a wet market via the Himalayan palm civet, an ancient species of mammal eaten as a delicacy in China. And MERS also has bat origins but mostly spreads from infected camels, often in slaughterhouses. Early work suggests this new virus is 96 per cent similar to a SARS-like strain discovered in bats in 2017. Bats are essential to many ecosystems we rely on but, through a lucky quirk in their immune system, they also carry a whole host of diseases that do not harm them. Sometimes they can spread to other species.

Why do we have to live like this?

The virus needs us to move; it jumps person to person after close contact so the idea is to slow its infection rate by temporarily changing our behaviour through social distancing (staying home where possible, avoiding gatherings and keeping 1.5 metres clear of others). As the world waits for a vaccine, this will save lives by helping stop a surge of cases overwhelming emergency departments all at once. Along with measures like lockdowns and tracing and isolating cases, social distancing has worked against outbreaks in the past, including the Spanish Flu. Governments around the world are now turning to it again.

What’s shutting down?

The federal government has ruled people shouldn’t gather in large numbers except for “essential” activities such as school, public transport and work. But working from home is strongly encouraged. Indoor gatherings still running should allow space for one person per four square metres, and police will be out to enforce the new rules. Visits to aged-care homes have also been restricted to protect vulnerable elderly residents.

  • People shouldn’t hold outdoor events or gather outside in large numbers
  • Indoor venues such as pubs, clubs, casinos, cinemas, gyms and places of worship must shut
  • Shopping centres will stay open but food courts will be for takeaway only
  • Auction houses will close
  • Real estate auctions and open-house inspections are called off
  • Personal services such as beauty therapists, waxing and tanning salons, nail bars, spas and tattoo parlours, must shut.
  • Hairdressers and barbers can remain open – but they must strictly manage social distancing and the four-square-metre rule as well as limiting patrons’ time in the salon to “no more than 30 minutes and preferably less”.
  • Amusement parks and arcades, and indoor and outdoor play centres, are also to shut down
  • Health clubs, fitness centres and public swimming pools will close
  • Boot camps and personal training must be limited to 10 people per class but, in general, people shouldn’t group together outdoors
  • Galleries, museums, national institutions, historic sites, libraries and community centres and facilities such as halls must shut
  • Rules for outdoor and indoor markets, not including food markets, will be addressed by states and territories. Food markets are considered essential.
  • All non-urgent elective surgeries are postponed until further notice.

On March 25, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said people would die if the rules were not followed. “If you can stay home, you must stay home. No dinner party, no shopping trip is worth a life.” He said children on school holidays could not be having friends over nor going to shopping centres to “hang out”. The measures help stop the virus spreading. “We cannot have people queuing for intensive care beds,” he said. That will mean they will die. We’ve got to buy time.”

There will be stage three restrictions at some stage.

What about weddings and funerals?

Weddings are limited to five people: just the couple, the celebrant and the witnesses, and funerals must be capped at 10 people in what the government has called “very difficult” but necessary measures.

How does self-isolation work?

Also sparking confusion is the question of who should practice this social distancing (everyone) v who should seal themselves off completely. To stem the spread of COVID-19, millions of people infected or exposed around the world are also being urged to go into voluntary exile at home or in isolation wards. While some people have chosen to start home isolation themselves, thousands of others in Australia been already been issued formal notices to comply as states call in police to help enforce them.

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We dive into the rules in this explainer here but in brief: if you have been in close contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19 or have returned from overseas, then you must self-isolate for a full fortnight (the estimated period of virus incubation before symptoms appear). Your household can still go out but you should try to keep to yourself, wearing a mask around others, ordering in food rather than going out, disinfecting common areas and keeping a close eye on how you are feeling (symptoms to watch out for are a high fever and shortness of breath). If you are infected yourself or awaiting tests, then everyone should stay home.

Can I have visitors (or parties)?

Visits to homes should be kept to a minimum and with very small numbers of guests – people should use their common sense, Mr Morrison says. Events such as barbecues or gatherings around the family table with lots of family or friends are no longer OK as they present risks, he said on March 24. And speaking of the fun police, house parties might even become an offence under the new rules. But experts say they reflect just how easily the virus can spread. Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has warned of a dinner party where just one person was infected with COVID-19 – at the start of the night. “By the end of the dinner party, almost everybody [there] had the coronavirus – this spreads rapidly,” he said.

But can I go outside?

The general public can still go out, say to get groceries or to the park, but we need to steer clear of others where we can, and cut out unnecessary trips. Going out for the basics, exercising outdoors with a partner or small group, going to work where you cannot work from home, is OK, the prime minister says. But gatherings of groups outdoors – such as, say, 10 people – is not. If you’re in self-isolation, you can wander into your garden or balcony but, while some officials have said you can still walk the dog or stretch your legs, Dr Kelly has said if you’ve been told to isolate you should stay home. “Sorry.”

I’m young and not in a high-risk group. Can I socialise?

Er, no. While the elderly and those with underlying conditions are more likely to die from COVID-19, young people can too. Figures from China, Europe and the US show concerningly high hospitalisation rates among the under 60s and in Australia there are people under 50 already in need of intensive care. One of two people in intensive care with COVID-19 in Melbourne on March 25 was in their 30s (the other was in their 60s). And note this: there have now been more coronavirus cases in both NSW and Victoria among 25- to 29 year-olds than any other age group. (And, in any case, even if you get a milder case you can still spread the virus to someone who might not be so lucky.)

Can someone test negative but be a carrier?

Yes. Some people will be infected without symptoms or very mild symptoms. To test for the virus right now, clinicians need to either take a direct sample, from a throat or nose swab or in lung phlegm, and examine the genetic code of the virus. Those tests are considered very accurate but in some cases if they miss the virus – say, because it is further down in the lungs and someone doesn’t cough up any phlegm (or sputum) – they can return a false negative. That’s why tests are often repeated, especially for patients recovering and returning to the community. Blood tests, which look for the body’s immune response to the infection, can also be used but are not yet widely available outside China.

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Can it be transmitted by people without symptoms?

One of the big mysteries of the virus is how infectious asymptomatic people really are. Some experts say people shed the most virus when they are unwell, especially while coughing, and the WHO calculates a danger window of infectivity about 48 hours before symptoms first appear. But other studies have tracked infections in parts of China and Singapore to “stealth” transmitters with mild or no symptoms. This also played out in the case of the cruise ship turned floating quarantine site, the Diamond Princess when it had an outbreak in early February. A study found 18 per cent of those infected on board never showed symptoms. Because this virus can spread before symptoms appear, it is especially hard to contain.

Why aren’t we testing more?

Countries which have succeeded in “flattening their curve” and dramatically slowing down outbreaks have carried out exhaustive testing and contact tracing regimes. In many cases, people without symptoms are tested, and health officials actively hunt for others, checking temperatures on entry to buildings. Australia’s testing rates are proportionately high compared to many other countries around the world (more than 147,000 have been done so far) but the criteria for being tested here is still very strict due to a global shortage of testing kits, the government says. Right now, to qualify for a test you must have symptoms AND have either returned from recent overseas travel, been in contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19 or work in healthcare.

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Those rules have since been relaxed to allow aged care workers to be tested too and Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy says “sentinel” or sample testing will soon begin, meaning some clinics will be allowed to test everyone presenting with COVID-19 symptoms. The federal government did not answer questions on the number of practices offering this expanded testing or how it is calculating likely community transmission and even potential suburb lockdowns in lieu of more widespread testing. But 1.5 million new pathology tests will be rolled out in the coming days. Deputy Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly says the criteria for who can get tested will also change again. “We’ll be removing the [overseas] traveller component,” he said on March 23, but did not elaborate.

At times, health authorities have also drawn criticism for letting known contacts of cases slip through the net, most notably allowing 2700 passengers to disembark in Sydney from the Ruby Princess cruise ship, more than 100 of whom later tested positive. But the states have also threatened hefty fines and even jail time for those at risk of spreading the virus who break home quarantine orders.

How long does it take to recover?

Symptoms tend to clear up in just a week or two in mild cases or three to six for more serious, according to WHO data, but early evidence suggests the virus can stick around in the body even longer. Australian researchers have now mapped the body’s immune response, identifying the antibodies it recruits to defeat the new virus, in some people starting the fight within just three days of the initial infection. Experts say it’s too early to say if this illness will result in permanent damage, such as the lung tissue scarring seen in more severe SARS and MERS patients.

Are you immune after catching COVID-19?

Scientists aren’t sure yet. Recovering from a virus leaves us armed with antibodies in our system to fight it off, and usually confers at least a period of immunity (though not always a life-long shield). Many experts say reports of people appearing to catch this new virus twice are probably best explained by false negative tests clearing them of the infection too early (when the virus had actually remained in their system). Common coronaviruses such as the ones that give you a cold tend to go away for at least a year or so before we become susceptible again. Studies of MERS-CoV has found antibodies still present in survivors more than 18 months after recovery, and some survivors of SARS retained ntibodies for many years thereafter.

Can I still travel?

Only if you really have to. Our borders have closed and overseas travel is now banned under biosecurity powers, except in exceptional circumstances. Citizens still travelling abroad are urged to come home as countries impose similiar shutdowns of their own.

Starting with Tasmania, most states have also started to close their domestic borders – police patrols will now ask people crossing over to go into quarantine for the reccomended 14-day window.

How long does the virus live on surfaces?

Viruses need hosts to survive – they can’t make it on their own. This one is shed by water droplets from the nose and mouth, usually expelled by coughing. They can travel for about a metre but do not survive as long in the air as other infectious viruses like measles. On surfaces, the WHO estimates the virus can linger for a few hours or a few days depending on the conditions. So far, a study has found it could last up to three days on hard surfaces like plastic and stainless steel but was less stable on others such as cardboard and copper. Of course, that doesn’t mean the virus could infect people for that length of time. And the good news is it can be killed with most simple disinfectant.

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Why aren’t we moving faster in Australia?

Debate is raging in Australia about if or when we should move from shutdowns to lockdowns like those seen in Italy, the UK and New Zealand. Victoria, NSW and the ACT sparked confusion briefly on March 22 when they flagged they would close everything but essential services such as supermarkets and fuel stops but hours later, they had fallen into line with the Morrison government’s rules. Still a growing chorus of doctors and experts want those tougher measures in force immediately, as fears grow hospital resources will be overwhelmed and medical staff put at greater risk if local outbreaks are not brought under control. But the Australian government is going for a phased approach in order to soften the economic fallout as it fights the virus. Mr Morrison says he won’t be cavalier with people’s livelihoods, stressing the country’s leaders are following the medical advice put to them and weighing each decision carefully. Professor Murphy has also warned moving too fast too quickly risks major disruption and burn out over the long term. “You can’t just shut things down for two weeks and that’s it. It has to keep going for months.”

Is public transport stopping?

No. Public transport is still running as it is considered one of the essential activities exempt from the government’s ban on gatherings but cleaning has been ramped up. While calls are growing from some experts to shut down public transport already, many people rely on it. Still, as social distancing rules come into force, travellers are deserting normally packed routes in droves. When on public transport, health officials say you should allow room for others as much as possible, rather than crowding in. It’s also important to keep an eye on what you’ve been touching. If you then touch your face, a virus surviving on, say, a metal handrail could jump across – so carry a disinfectant or even wear one (stylish) glove for holding on and touching things.

Why aren’t schools closing?

Victoria, NSW and the ACT are moving schools to online learning but the federal government says its own advice not to follow countries such as Italy and the UK in closing schools still stands – as children tend to only catch very mild or asymptomatic cases of the virus. Under a timeline of at least six months, closing schools too early could therefore prematurely disrupt both their education and (through their parents) the workforce, Mr Morrison says. Older teachers or those with conditions that put them more at risk will be removed from on-site duties in discussion with unions and schools will close immediately in the event of an outbreak, only opening once those exposed have been quarantined. Singapore has also kept schools open but has strict health checks including temperature scans at the school gate.

Can you catch it from pets?

It appears that, as with SARS, it’s possible for our pets to catch the virus from us in very rare cases (although they do not fall sick or become infectious). But despite hysteria about a pomeranian in Hong Kong returning a “weak positive” test for COVID-19, the WHO stresses there’s no evidence the virus can jump the other way, from pets to people, and no one should abandon their animals. The risk instead would come in if a pet itself became a contaminated “surface” (from all those sloppy kisses). You should exercise the usual cautions around animals, washing your hands after touching them.

Can you get COVID-19 and the flu at the same time?

Yes it’s possible. As it breeds in the lungs, the virus can impair your body’s ability to filter out germs falling down from the upper airways and so leave some people susceptible to another bug – whether the common cold, influenza or a case of bacterial pneumonia. So this year there is a particular urgency behind calls for people to have their flu shots, as hospitals brace for a surge of COVID-19 and flu cases hitting all at once.

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How far away is a vaccine?

The most hopeful estimates fall within the range of 12 to 18 months. A report for the British government put it at “potentially 18 months or more”. Why? Because making a vaccine is really, really hard. To make a vaccine, you first need to design a way of giving a human immunity against a virus. Then you need to make sure the vaccine is not toxic. Then you need to test it in animals. Then you need to test it in humans – and the tests need to be large so we can make sure it works and is safe. And then you need to make the billions of doses needed. And there is every chance a vaccine that looks promising in the lab, or in animal tests, won’t work in humans. Experts are hoping to roll out a safe vaccine within 18 months. But even that would be unprecedented. No vaccine has ever been developed that quickly. – Liam Mannix, science reporter

What treatment is being developed?

The Peter Doherty Institute in Australia is working on both a vaccine and a potential therapeutic treatment for the virus, and director Sharon Lewin says the latter might offer a faster fix. A drug that could block the virus from replicating in the body (or calm down the body’s intense immune response to it) could keep patients with severe infections alive and, in the case of an antiviral, reduce transmission. Several existing drugs are now being trialled against the new virus worldwide, including those used to treat HIV, malaria, and arthritis. The results look promising but it’s not time to rush out to the pharmacy just yet.

Do face masks really stop the spread and shouldn’t we all be wearing them?

Face masks can protect against the water droplets that spread the virus (and should be changed regularly). But because this virus spreads through close contact, rather than from simply passing someone on the street, experts say wearing masks if you’re not interacting with an infected person is largely pointless. More concerningly, people hoarding masks is leading to critical shortages for those who really need them – healthcare workers on the frontline. Professor Murphy has urged people not to “waste” masks unless they themselves have symptoms or are caring for someone who is infected.

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How does this outbreak compare to others like SARS?

It took this new coronavirus 48 days to infect the first thousand people. By contrast, SARS took 130 days and the less infectious MERS more than two years to infect a thousand people after it emerged in 2012. When SARS finished its spread after nine months in 2003, only 8098 cases had been confirmed across 26 countries but close to 10 per cent of those were fatal. (Most clusters happened in hospitals or households.) MERS has been circulating for eight years across 27 countries so far, and kills about a third of those who fall ill – out of about 2500 confirmed cases. Ebola is even more deadly, killing more than 40 per cent of those diagnosed over a number of outbreaks since the 1970s but it has been reported in just a handful of countries.

In the pandemic records, the infamous 1918 “Spanish flu” killed about 2.5 per cent of its victims over two years – but because it infected so many people (close to 27 per cent of the world’s population) at a time of much cruder medical care, about 50 million died. Today, doctors are much better able to stave off secondary bacterial infections, which proved particularly deadly during that outbreak. And, unlike the Spanish flu, young people are not dying at the same rates – with very few children coming down with severe cases ( a phenomenon also observed during SARS).

The last pandemic was swine flu in 2009, the second coming of a H1N1 influenza that infected between 11 and 21 per cent of the world’s population. Governments mounted costly responses until it was ruled to be over in October 2010. But the virus killed about 285,000 people (fewer than seasonal flu normally does) with a relatively low fatality rate of .02 per cent, and the WHO copped criticism for labelling it a pandemic at all.

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What happens if I lose income?

Millions of dollars are being poured into the Australian economy to offset the damage being done to businesses and employment by the coronavirus pandemic. For details of who gets what from stimulus packages, look here.

And if you’ve actually lost your job because of the crisis, this explainer outlines what support is available.

Our team will answer more questions and update information in this story regularly.

If you suspect you or a family member has coronavirus you should call (not visit) your GP or ring the national Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080.

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