No sooner had health authorities in Melbourne confirmed Australia’s first case of the deadly coronavirus in Victoria than three more were identified in NSW.
The virus has so far killed at least 41 people in China and sickened more than a thousand, according to official figures.
All three NSW cases are being treated in hospitals across Sydney, with the victims being between 30 and 50.
All were recent visitors to China, with the first of the latest cases arriving back in Australia on January 6 and the most recent two weeks later.
Victoria’s Acting Chief Health Officer Angie Bone said the Melbourne man, a Chinese national aged in his 50s, went to a GP on Thursday and then to the Monash Medical Centre in the Melbourne suburb of at Clayton where he was put into isolation.
NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard says four other cases are currently under investigation, with some of those undergoing test just children.
The Melbourne man was diagnosed with pneumonia and is in a stable condition, being treated in a negative pressure isolation room.
“There is no reason for alarm in the general community,” insisted Victoria’s state health minister Jenny Mikakos.
“He exhibited no symptoms on the flight, and when he did experience some symptoms of illness they contacted the GP on Thursday, they called ahead and he was double-masked when he presented to the GP clinic.
“He was not confirmed to have coronavirus by the GP. The family contacted the Monash Medical Centre on Friday, they called ahead of time and again he was masked before he turned up at [emergency] and [was] immediately put into isolation.”
China’s National Health Commission said in a statement on Saturday that 41 people have now died from the new coronavirus that has infected more than 1000 people globally.
As health authorities around the world scramble to prevent a global pandemic, the total number of confirmed cases in China now stands at 1287.
Dr Bone said the Chinese man arrived in Melbourne at 9am on January 19 on China Southern Airlines flight CZ321 from Guangzhou on the morning of Sunday January 19. Ms Mikakos said border screening would not have detected the virus, adding that all passengers on thr flight would be contacted as a precaution.
The man had been staying with family and had not been out and about, so the risk to the broader community had been minimised, she added.
Five people have been tested by New South Wales Health, but none of those cases has been confirmed.
— China Xinhua News (@XHNews) January 25, 2020
Meanwhile, Australia’s Chief medical Officer Brendan Murphy said it was important for people arriving from Wuhan, and those in close contact with them, to monitor for symptoms including fever, cough, sore throat,vomiting and difficulty breathing.
“We don’t know exactly how long symptoms take to show after a person has been infected but there is an incubation period and some patients will have very mild symptoms,” Professor Murphy said.
The Department of Foreign Affairs has overnight raised the level of travel advice for Wuhan and Hubei province to “do not travel” while the disease is now listed as having “pandemic potential” allowing border measures to be enhanced.
The outbreak originated in Wuhan, now in lockdown, a Chinese city of 11 million people and cases have now been confirmed in 10 other countries.
The vast majority of the cases and all of the confirmed deaths to date have been in China, but the virus has also been detected in Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Nepal, France and the United States.
Three cases of Wuhan coronavirus have been identified in France, the Health Ministry says. They are the first European cases of the newly discovered virus, officials said. https://t.co/Khx1gVsc6d pic.twitter.com/fn7qHlYx6t
— CNN Breaking News (@cnnbrk) January 25, 2020
Human-to-human transmission has been observed in the virus, which health authorities believe to have originated in a market in Wuhan that traded illegally in wildlife.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) declared the new coronavirus an “emergency in China” this week but stopped short of declaring it of international concern.
The virus continues to spread globally, however: French authorities reported Europe’s first confirmed cases on Friday evening.
Nearly all flights at Wuhan’s airport have been cancelled and checkpoints block the main roads leading out of town. Authorities have since imposed similar lockdowns on more than 10 cities near Wuhan as part of the ongoing containment effort.
As Wuhan slides into isolation, pharmacies have begun to run out of supplies and hospitals have been flooded with nervous residents. The city is rushing to build a 1000-bed hospital by Monday, state media said.
Hubei’s health authority said on Saturday there were 658 patients affected by the virus in medical care, 57 of whom were critically ill.
“It must be confusing and infuriating that on the weekend the government reassured citizens that the virus did not spread between humans and was under control, and then, only four days later, to initiate an unprecedented lockdown of Wuhan and other cities,” said Mary Gallagher, director of the Lieberthal-Rogel Center for Chinese Studies at the University of Michigan.
There are multiple reports of doctors at Chinese hospitals catching the #coronavirus after treating the infected patients and later (after incubation period) collapsing on the floor (with similar respiratory arrests symptoms we observed in other videos). pic.twitter.com/JE2Hsq4FU2
— Max Howroute▫️ (@howroute) January 25, 2020
The newly-identified coronavirus has created alarm because there are still many unknowns surrounding it, such as how dangerous it is and how easily it spreads between people. It can cause pneumonia, which has been deadly in some cases.
Symptoms include fever, difficulty breathing and coughing. Most of the fatalities have been in elderly patients, many with pre-existing conditions, the WHO said.
Airports around the world have stepped up screening of passengers from China, though some health officials and experts have questioned the effectiveness of such screenings and of the lockdown.
Health officials fear the transmission rate could accelerate as hundreds of millions of Chinese travel at home and abroad during week-long holidays for the Lunar New Year, which began on Saturday.
Five people are undergoing testing for the virus in NSW and two in Queensland.
A number of people have already been cleared in both states.