A Brisbane man has been quarantined at home as health authorities run tests to find out if he is carrying the deadly new strain of coronavirus that is sweeping Asia.
The man had recently returned from Wuhan in China, where the outbreak began, and had symptoms of the SARS-like illness, Queensland Health said on Tuesday.
‘We’ve got one gentleman that we’re following at the moment who has travelled to Wuhan and has developed a respiratory illness,” Queensland chief medical officer Dr Jeanette Young said.
“He is recovering at home.
“We’ve done some tests on him and are awaiting test results.”
Dr Young said test results might take several days as further medical information was needed from China.
Also on Tuesday, authorities rapidly escalated Australia’s response the lethal virus, amid reports of a British tourist being rushed to hospital in Thailand after showing similar symptoms.
Ash Shorley, 32, was flown to a Phuket hospital where he remains in critical condition after a pneumonia-like bug infected both of his lungs, The Sun newspaper has reported.
Thai doctors found Mr Shorley’s symptoms were consistent with the strain of coronavirus that has reportedly spread from a fish market in Wuhan in recent weeks.
More than 220 cases of the virus have been confirmed, with instances reported in Japan, Thailand and South Korea.
A fourth person with links to the virus was confirmed dead on Tuesday morning.
The 89-year-old Chinese man, who had other health problems, showed symptoms on January 13 and was admitted to hospital on January 18, the Wuhan municipal health commission said.
He died the following day.
The unique strain of coronavirus, known as ‘2019-nCoV’, causes a type of viral pneumonia that infects the lungs and makes it hard to breathe.
China confirmed early on Tuesday that the disease can be passed from human to human. There is no vaccine for the new virus.
The strain is similar to severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS disease), which killed more than 770 people around the world in an outbreak in 2003.
China’s President Xi Jinping said curbing the outbreak and saving lives was the top priority.
“People’s lives and health should be given top priority and the spread of the outbreak should be resolutely curbed,” he was quoted as saying by state television.
I’ve just spoken to the Commonwealth’s Chief Medical Officer about #coronavirus in #Wuhan. We’ve agreed on enhancing messaging in all first ports of entry for incoming passengers. No direct flights Wuhan to Melbourne. All ill passengers should be assessed by Biosecurity officer.
— Chief Health Officer, Victoria (@VictorianCHO) January 20, 2020
International airports have started screening passengers for the virus amid fresh fears of another global epidemic.
In Australia, passengers flying from Wuhan to Sydney will be subject to extra biosecurity from Thursday, to try to prevent the strain spreading here.
There are three direct flights a week from Wuhan into Sydney.
“We’re doing some careful modelling to see if there are any other flights from China that have a high proportion of Wuhan-origin passengers, and we may consider expanding that too,” Australia’s chief health officer Brendan Murphy said.
A video has been shared widely on Twitter showing passengers on a domestic Chinese flight from Wuhan having their temperatures taken by people in protective suits.
passengers screened for coronavirus symptoms on a domestic flight out of Wuhan pic.twitter.com/ytUbVzpYRZ
— David Paulk 波大卫 (@davidpaulk) January 20, 2020
Professor Murphy said while the risk to the nation was low, but a “precautionary and active surveillance of the situation” was required.
“There is no need for alarm and the risk to the Australian public from this novel coronavirus remains relatively low,” Professor Murphy said on Tuesday.
Under the boosted measures, signs are all points of entry into Australia will warn travellers who develop symptoms to seek urgent medical attention.
Australian authorities will also work with the Chinese media to get the message across.
Anyone who thinks they might have symptoms related to the virus is urged to report to health authorities immediately.
The health department is also working with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to consider updating advice for Australians travelling to Wuhan.
Professor Murphy said the current number of confirmed cases was probably an underestimate, with unconfirmed cases in other parts of China, as well as Japan, Thailand and South Korea.
The US has already started screening for the virus at airports, but Professor Murphy said Australia’s response was proportionate.
“People get frightened and there’s often media hype and that’s why I think it’s important to reassure the public that we are well prepared,” he said.