There are fears up to 40 people may have been exposed to coronavirus after a Gold Coast beautician tested positive.
It brings the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Australia to 25 – nine of them in Queensland — as the World Heath Organisation raised the risk of the spread of the disease to “very high”.
The 63-year-old beautician, who recently returned from Iran, is in isolation at the Gold Coast University Hospital after becoming ill on Thursday while treating customers at the Hair Plus salon in the Australia Fair shopping centre at Southport.
Queensland health authorities are trying to track down dozens of clients who had facial treatments in sessions lasting less than 15 minutes and may have been exposed the virus.
“She saw a number of clients each for brief interactions, so we believe the risk is incredibly low,” Dr Young said.
“Because as soon as she had her first symptom – and she is a highly intelligent, very sensitive lady – she spoke to her manager and she went home and she went to Gold Coast University Hospital to get tested.
“She did everything perfectly, you couldn’t have asked more of her.
“She came back from Iran, she was perfectly well on the flight back into Australia and up to the Gold Coast, and then a couple of day later she developed some symptoms.”
Dr Young urged anyone who attended the Hair Plus salon at Australia Fair at Southport from 11am on Thursday to come forward.
Dr Young said there was no need for anyone who was at the shopping centre at the same time, to be concerned.
“We’ve got no concerns about her flight,” Dr Young said.
“We’ve got no concerns about that first day, it’s only on Thursday when she developed symptoms.
“There is no need to have any concerns prior to that.
“We know that we will be seeing a pandemic result through the world, it’s not been declared yet.
“But we know we will be seeing an epidemic here in Queensland eventually.
“We’d like to contain the virus, as we have been, for as long as possible and I believe that we’re doing that very effectively at the moment.”
Health minister Steven Miles also reassured Queenslanders the Covid-19 virus remained contained across the state, despite the latest development. There are now nine confirmed cases in the state.
Meanwhile, a 79-year-old west Australian woman has tested positive after being evacuated from the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan.
According to Johns Hopkins University’s realtime heat map, there are 85,176 cases world wide and 2919 reported deaths.
“The continuing increase in the number of cases and number of affected countries over the last few days are clearly of concern,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesushe said in Geneva.
He said that 24 COVID-19 cases have now been exported from Italy, now the worst-hit country in Europe, to 14 countries and that 97 cases have been exported from Iran to 11 countries.
The UN health agency had previously labelled the global risk as “high” but still short of calling it a pandemic.
- Related: WHO escalates risk to very high
The Australian government is already putting in place plans to tackle a pandemic.
In particular, it is looking at how aged care facilities could be locked down in the case of a coronavirus outbreak.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison says while some countries such as Japan are looking at closing schools, there is no need to do that in Australia based on current medical advice.
However, the virus known as COVID-19 affects the elderly more.
“The bigger impact would be in things like aged care facilities, the ability to lock those down, and to have the right care and support to those who are working in those places,” Mr Morrison said on Friday.
Health ministers who met in Melbourne on Friday agreed the Commonwealth would take the lead on an aged care advanced planning process.
“Those who are elderly or those who have difficulties with their immune system are most at risk and that is why they are absolute top priority,” federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said.
Aged care providers received a letter this week from Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy outlining the need for them to have emergency plans in place.
Federal opposition frontbencher Jason Clare said the government is doing the right thing even though the WHO has yet to declare a pandemic.
“They have followed the advice of the chief medical officer … they have followed the advice of the experts,” Mr Clare told ABC television on Saturday.
South Korea cases rise sharply
Meanwhile, South Korea has reported 594 new cases of coronavirus, a big rise bringing the total to 2931, the Korea Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) said.
Of the 594 new cases, 476 occurred in Daegu, 300 kilometres south-east of Seoul, and 60 were reported in neighbouring North Gyeongsang province, news agency Yonhap reported.
Many of the country’s cases have been linked to the Shincheonji church in Daegu. Experts expect the number of confirmed cases to rise further, as authorities test some 210,000 members of the church, Yonhap said.