A deadly virus behind a respiratory illness that has infected 217 people in China can be spread between humans, local authorities have confirmed.
There are fears the novel form of viral pneumonia could spread across borders as some 400 million people are expected to board trains and planes for the Lunar New Year holidays.
Australia’s chief medical officer Professor Brendan Murphy is examining how to respond locally and is expected to make an announcement later on Tuesday morning.
In a statement earlier this week, Professor Murphy said: “Australia has well established mechanisms to respond to ill travelers at points of entry.
“Under Australian legislation airlines must report passengers on board showing signs of an infectious disease, including fever, sweats or chills.”
The World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva will meet on Wednesday to determine whether the outbreak constitutes a health emergency of international concern.
Declaring such an emergency would amount to a call for global vigilance and cooperation to tackle the spread. It would also mean countries could be called upon to send aid workers and fund medical programs.
The new type of coronavirus – which initially broke out in the central city of Wuhan – has reportedly been transmitted from one patient to at least 14 medical staff, local health officials said, a sign the disease is highly contagious.
Authorities initially thought the strain spread to humans from animals.
In investigating the outbreak, Zhong Nanshan said transmission between humans was behind at least two confirmed cases in China’s Guangdong province.
He said at least 95 per cent of the cases originated from Wuhan, with at least seven more suspected cases reported from different parts of China.
Health authorities in Wuhan said 136 new cases were confirmed in the city over the weekend, bringing the total number of infected patients to 217. The virus has so far claimed three lives.
Most recently, a Chinese woman traveling from Wuhan to South Korea’s Seoul was rushed to hospital after disembarking from the flight. She’s said to have been infected with the coronavirus.
A further two people in southern China caught the diseases from family members, local media reported on Monday.
Five individuals in Beijing and 14 in southern China’s Guangdong province have also been diagnosed with the new coronavirus, state broadcaster CCTV reported.
A total of seven suspected cases have been found in other parts of the country, including in Sichuan and Yunnan provinces in the southwest and in Shanghai.
Chinese President Xi Jinping said it was “extremely crucial” to take every possible measure to combat this new coronavirus.
“The recent outbreak of novel coronavirus pneumonia in Wuhan and other places must be taken seriously,” Mr Xi said, according to CCTV.
“Party committees, governments and relevant departments at all levels should put people’s lives and health first.”
They should “ensure that the masses have a quiet, peaceful and joyous Spring Festival”, he added.