Services with questions about returning from China as LNY and coronavirus combine

by Freya Lucas

January 23, 2020

For some services who have a large number of children and families who are visiting China over the Lunar New Year (LNY) period, concerns have arisen about the Wuhan coronavirus, considered by many to be of concern for its similarity to SARS, which infected more than 8,000 people, killing over 750 during a pandemic in the early 2000s. 

 

While details about the virus are scant, given its recent emergence, scientists have confirmed that the Wuhan coronavirus fatality rate is comparable to the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic. 

 

Professor Neil Ferguson from Imperial College London told CNN that the lack of understanding about the virus makes it “a significant global concern”.

 

To date, those experiencing the Wuhan coronavirus have had a mild cough for a week, followed by shortness of breath which caused them to visit their local hospital, Professor Peter Horby told CNN. Of these cases, up to 20 per cent have become severe, requiring additional measures such as ventilation. 

 

While there have not yet been diagnosed cases of Wuhan coronavirus in Australia, one case has emerged in the US, and Australian early childhood education and care (ECEC) providers have expressed concern on social media about the possibility of the virus being brought to Australia following many families returning to China for LNY celebrations in January and February. 

 

Australian Government response

The Australian Government Department of Health is working across agencies to implement additional measures to manage the risk posed by the virus, issuing advice aiming to reassure Australians that to date there have been no confirmed cases in Australia and the risk of transmission in Australia from the virus remains low. 

 

Professor Brendan Murphy, Chief Medical Officer for the Australian Government, highlighted that there are “well established mechanisms to detect and respond to ill travellers, and processes in place to implement further measures if the risk increases.” 

 

“This is a rapidly evolving matter with developments in recent days and we remain alert but not alarmed,” Professor Murphy said. 

 

Following consultation with other Government agencies and states and territories, the Federal Government are now undertaking “evidence based, proportionate additional border measures,” particularly in relation to the three weekly direct flights from Wuhan to Sydney.

 

Key details of the evolving situation and suspected cases in Australia are shared across jurisdictions through key expert bodies such as the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee and its standing committee, the Communicable Diseases Network Australia, and ECEC services with concerns about the virus are encouraged to monitor these sources for further information. 

 

Background information about the virus

The virus was first detected in the City of Wuhan in China around 30 December 2019.

 

As of 21 January 2020, 198 confirmed cases of this virus have been detected in the Wuhan region of China, with three deaths.

 

An additional 23 cases have been detected in individuals in Beijing and Guangdong Province (China), Japan, South Korea and Thailand. Some of these individuals have reported a history of travel to Wuhan.

 

Since 17 January 2020, 136 new cases have been identified in patients in Wuhan with previously unexplained pneumonia.

 

All reported cases are adults, and there is likely to be “under-reporting and detection, particularly of mild cases, and true numbers are likely to be significantly greater”.

 

To read the CNN coverage referenced above please see here. For ongoing information about the presence of the virus in Australia, please see here. 

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