‘Calm and vigilance’ needed on Coronavirus

The number of cases of novel Coronavirus confirmed in Australia has risen to seven, as NSW Health says two patients have been discharged

Queensland Health has called for calm and vigilance following the confirmation that a Chinese national from Wuhan had tested positive to the disease, on the Gold Coast.

The 44-year-old man remains in a stable condition at a hospital where he has been isolated, and contact tracing has begun to determine whether more people need to be tested for the virus.

The man developed symptoms on a flight from Melbourne to the Gold Coast on Tiger Airways flight #TT566 on 27 January, arriving at 8.45pm. He was taken to hospital on 28 January where he was tested and diagnosed with coronavirus, and eight other people from the tour group he was with are also in isolation in the hospital.

NSW Health is now investigating 20 cases of potential Coronavirus, it said in a media update on Thursday, with 50 cases cleared and four confirmed.

“Of the four confirmed cases, two patients have been discharged, a 53 year old male and a 35 year old male,” a spokesperson for NSW Health said. 

“Two patients remain in hospital, a 21 year old female and a 43 year old male.”

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said on Thursday that, “The latest figures that we have are 6000 people infected and 132 lives lost”.

“We do expect those figures will increase when the latest report comes later today from the overseas authorities,” he told reporters.

A Health Department update issued Thursday notes that, “On 29 January, the Australian Government announced that it is making arrangements to help isolated and vulnerable Australian citizens leave Wuhan”.

“The Government is working to identify Australian citizens in China who may meet requirements for repatriation.

“The Government also announced it will stand up a quarantine facility on Christmas Island where people will be quarantined for 14 days.

“This approach will ensure that people coming from Wuhan can be monitored for illness. It will protect the safety of the broader Australian community and the Christmas Island community.

“Health and biosecurity experts will advise on appropriate quarantine and medical arrangements for the facility.

“After 14 days and once medically cleared, the Australian Government will enable quarantined people to return to their homes in Australia.”

AMA president Dr Tony Bartone told reporters that the AMA has significant concerns about the use of the Christmas Island facility for this purpose.

“What we’ve suggested is that, when we look at the history of Christmas Island, when we look at all the other available options on mainland Australia, when we look at what is required to contain and to isolate this group of Australians, as the Government has seen fit, for a period of 14 days, there are many more humane options on mainland Australia that would allow the proximity to both the appropriate medical specialists,” he told reporters.

“That is imposing another level of stress, another level of worry and concern on an already worried group, an already fearful group of Australians, who the only crime, if you want to say anything, that they’ve committed is to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

“And so, they really should be extended the caring arm of a caring government. Understanding also that they are not immediately suffering from the illness, coronavirus, at the moment.

“Yes, there might be an incubation period, but we have already established protocols and procedures to deal with that. We can deal with that without a 600-bed hospital.

“What we need is a 600-bed facility that allows monitoring and facilitation and the close cooperation of this group of Australians as they return back.”

However Professor Raina MacIntyre, Professor of Global Biosecurity and Head of the Biosecurity Research Program at the Kirby Institute, UNSW Medicine, said the approach was “sensible” and cited Australia’s history of using quarantine to manage epidemics.

“Our Quarantine station in Sydney closed as recently as the 1980s and was used to quarantine ships and their passengers during the Spanish flu pandemic, as it was an isolated location at the time,” she said.

“We found that the pandemic was delayed coming to Australia as a result.

“If there is to be an epidemic in Australia, any delay is good. This buys time for development of drugs and vaccines.”

On the ground in Australia, after a thread on Reddit discussed the shortage of face masks earlier this week, with the original poster commenting on a Chemist Warehouse security door man wearing a sign saying they had sold out, further reports of mask shortages around the country have been published.

The ABC reports that in South Australia, which is investigating three more potential cases of the Coronavirus, pharmacies have spoken out about the difficulty keeping masks in stock.

“Each time they refilled their stocks, they sold out again, they said, with demand continuing to increase,” wrote Eugene Boisvert and Claire Campbell.

The Federal Government has committed to providing a million face masks to the GP setting in a move welcomed by the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners.

Meanwhile a pharmacy in Beijing has been fined three million yuan (AUD$642,000) after it increased the price of N95 masks from 143 yuan to 850 yuan, SBS reports.

In Shanghai, a pharmacy which was selling “sub-standard” masks was reportedly closed.

As reported earlier this week, Chief Health Officer Professor Brendan Murphy has written to the Guild urging pharmacists to be alert for symptoms of the Coronavirus and to be aware of patients’ recent travel history, a move welcomed by the Guild, which says pharmacists are ready to help.

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