The World Health Organization has declared the outbreak of novel Coronavirus to be a Public Health Emergency of International Concern
According to WHO figures from 30 January, more than 170 people in China have died from the disease, and more than 7,700 people have been infected.
An additional 83 cases have been confirmed in 18 countries, with nine cases now confirmed in Australia.
As at the morning of 31 January, two cases had been confirmed in Queensland, three in Victoria and four in NSW, according to the Department of Health.
To date more than 200 people have been tested in Australia.
The Department confirmed that internationally, approximately 7,834 confirmed cases of 2019-nCoV, and 170 deaths have been reported – a 2.17% fatality rate.
There has been human-to-human transmission in three countries outside China, the WHO reports, and one of these cases is severe, though to date there have been no deaths.
The WHO’s Emergency Committee says that it believes that it is still possible to interrupt virus spread, provided that countries put in place strong measures to detect disease early, isolate and treat cases, trace contacts, and promote social distancing measures commensurate with the risk.
“It is important to note that as the situation continues to evolve, so will the strategic goals and measures to prevent and reduce spread of the infection,” it says.
“The Committee agreed that the outbreak now meets the criteria for a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.”
Associate Professor Adam Kamradt-Scott, an expert in the spread and control of infectious diseases at the Centre for International Security Studies at the University of Sydney, said that while the PHEIC declaration represents the highest level of alert the WHO can issue, this means very little for Australia.
“We have already enacted our national response systems to monitor and respond to cases that emerge in Australia,” he said.
“The Australian Government has been closely monitoring international developments for the past couple of weeks, and progressively scaled up our national response as the situation has continued to evolve.
“We are very well placed to deal with any cases of the new coronavirus here in Australia, and our health system remains one of the best in the world.”
Meanwhile an analysis of 99 patients with the disease, including some of the first to be hospitalised, has hinted at the groups of people who may be most at risk.
An observational study published in The Lancet has found that it is more likely to affect older males with other underlying diseases, and can result in severe and even fatal respiratory diseases such as acute respiratory distress syndrome.
The study found most patients were middle-aged (average age 55.5 years) and male (67 patients), and around half had a history of exposure to the Huanan seafood market (49 patients).
Around half of cases occurred in people with underlying chronic diseases including cardiovascular and cerebrovascular diseases and diabetes.
The study involved 99 patients who had been transferred to Jinyintan Hospital, an adult infectious disease hospital admitting the first 2019-nCoV cases from hospitals across Wuhan, between January 1 and January 20, 2020.
All patients admitted to hospital had pneumonia—most were infected in both lungs (74 patients). The majority also had fever (82 patients), cough (81), and a third experienced shortness of breath (31). Five critically ill patients also experienced coinfections with bacteria (one patient) and fungi (four).
Most patients were treated with antivirals (75 patients), antibiotics (70), and oxygen therapy (75), and had a good prognosis. However, 17 patients developed acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), 11 of whom died of multiple organ failure.
More than half of patients (57 patients) are still in hospital, and almost a third (31 patients) have been discharged, as of 25 January, 2020.
The authors point out that while this is the largest study of its kind so far, larger studies including patients from other cities and countries are needed to obtain a more comprehensive understanding of this novel coronavirus.