The global toll from the lethal Chinese coronavirus rose to nine on Wednesday, as Health Minister Greg Hunt warned that authorities can force anyone showing symptoms to go to hospital.
Mr Hunt’s stern warning came as Australian authorities, and their counterparts around the world, ramped up precautions against the deadly SARS-like condition.
“We expect that any passengers that do have issues will self-report because it’s in their own interests,” Mr Hunt said.
“But, if not, then there are strong powers.”
On Wednesday afternoon, Chinese authorities confirmed the death toll from the virus had risen to nine, of 440 cases in 13 provinces.
Cases of the lethal coronavirus have also been confirmed in the US, Thailand, Taiwan, Japan, and South Korea.
The US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention has said it expects more cases in the United States, fuelling fears the virus could develop into a deadly global pandemic. The CDC is screening arrivals to the US at Los Angeles, Atlanta and Chicago airports.
In addition, the World Health Organisation is expected to decide within hours whether to declare the virus an international public health emergency.
Also on Wednesday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison urged Australians to remain alert, but not alarmed.
The disease has not arrived in Australia; a Brisbane man being tested for it was released from isolation on Tuesday. He showed no ongoing symptoms and test results were expected in coming days, Queensland Health said.
Biosecurity measures have been ramped up for flights into the country from China, and especially the city of Wuhan.
The sprawling capital of central China’s Hubei province is the epicentre of the coronavirus, which is said to have started in animals before spreading to humans. It is now thought to be being spread through human respiratory tracts.
On Wednesday, local health authorities imposed a quasi-quarantine on Wuhan, advising the city’s 11 million people not to leave until the virus is contained.
Chinese government spokesman Li Bin also told a media briefing that live animals had been banned from the city.
The Brisbane man who was placed in isolation flew home to Australia earlier in January after visiting family in Wuhan, where the virus broke out in December.
Mr Morrison said the three flights to Australia from Wuhan each week would be closely monitored.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade had raised the level of its travel advisory for Wuhan, he said. It is recommending travellers exercise a high degree of caution while in the city.
“I’m advised by the chief medical officer the risk of transmission in Australia remains low. However, the situation is evolving,” Mr Morrison said on Twitter.
He said a national response centre was online and coordinating a response with federal, states and territory health experts.
“We are prepared to deal with this situation,” he said.
“While Australians should remain alert, they should not be alarmed.”
Chief medical officer Brendan Murphy has urged anyone who has come from Wuhan and develops flu-like symptoms to seek medical attention.
“The risks really, at present, remain particularly focused on people coming from that region of China, particularly the city of Wuhan,” Professor Murphy told the ABC.
“That’s why we have ramped up biosecurity measures meeting those three direct flights from Wuhan a week.”
Health screenings will be stepped up at Australian airports after it was confirmed the virus can be spread from person to person.
There is no vaccine for the virus, although work has begun on developing one.