Health authorities in New South Wales are investigating whether one person has contracted the deadly coronavirus just hours after the last flight from the virus epicentre in China touched down in Sydney.
NSW Chief Health Officer Dr Kerry Chant said testing will be rapidly undertaken and authorities will be able to exclude or confirm the case within “a very short time frame”.
The virus originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan, and has killed 17 people.
Wuhan has since been placed in lockdown.
A plane from Wuhan arrived in Sydney on Thursday, with passengers and crew checked individually for symptoms before they were allowed to leave the airport.
The China Eastern Airlines flight from Xian via Wuhan arrived in Sydney just after 11am on Thursday.
Under increased biosecurity measures, all on board were checked by health professionals as they departed the plane.
One passenger said almost everyone on the flight had been wearing a mask.
He said passengers were checked for fever when they got off the plane and were given an information document about the virus.
Sydney father-of-two Kevin Ouyand returned on the flight after spending one night in Wuhan, where he said he wore a mask the whole time.
The 40-year-old said he was worried about being in Wuhan as the situation was “very serious”.
Mr Ouyand told the ABC he would wear his mask at home for the next 10 days.
“I need to protect my family members,” he said.
The flight crew – who also all wore masks – did not speak to media as they left the airport.
One passenger without a mask said she had not been alarmed because the authorities were taking necessary precautions.
Just hours after the flight took off from Wuhan, Chinese officials made a bombshell announcement the city of 11 million people would be locked down to try to contain the virus, which has already killed 17 people and put hundreds more in hospital.
The local government has shut down all urban transport networks and suspended outgoing flights from Wuhan, the epicentre of the coronavirus that is thought to have started in animals before spreading to humans.
The move came as hundreds of thousands were expected to travel from major cities to family homesteads for this weekend’s Lunar New Year celebration.
On Wednesday, NSW Health said four of its doctors and nurses experienced in public health and infection control would meet the plane when it landed at Sydney Airport.
They were to be assisted by virology experts from Westmead Hospital and elsewhere.
The health workers would wear masks and gloves when examining anyone with symptoms, NSW Health protection executive director Jeremy McAnulty said.
“If it looks like they may have an infection … we can arrange for testing and management of that person right away”.
Dr McAnulty says identifying potential carriers at the airport was “not foolproof by any means” because people who’ve been exposed to the virus might not display symptoms for days.
Fu Gui, who was waiting for her sister and parents to arrive from Shenzhen, said it was concerning the plane from Wuhan was arriving into Sydney.
“I’m a little worried but I think the staff here will test them all,” she said on Thursday.
Canberra has updated its travel advice urging Australians to reconsider their need to travel to Wuhan.
“The Chinese authorities have put new measures in place to contain the spread of the coronavirus,” the federal government advice states.
“This includes wearing masks in public places and avoiding travel in and out of Wuhan.”
A number of Australians have been tested for the virus, while cases have been confirmed in the US, Japan, Thailand and South Korea.
On Wednesday, Queensland Health confirmed a man who had been isolated after returning from visiting family in Wuhan did not have the virus.
Australia’s chief medical officer Brendan Murphy said it was possible the virus will reach Australia but he insisted the nation was equipped to respond.
Health Minister Greg Hunt has said authorities have the power to take anyone who may be suffering from symptoms directly to hospital “but we expect passengers … will self-report”.
Sydney is the only Australian city with direct flights to Wuhan.
The services, which were launched in 2017, run three times a week.