The death toll from the coronavirus has risen to 170 and there are now 7000 cases of the disease Chinese officials have confirmed, as Australia prepares facilities on Christmas Island for evacuees from Hubei province.
The new virus has now infected more people in China than were sickened during the 2002-03 SARS outbreak.
Seven people have been diagnosed in Australia across three states, with many more awaiting test results. However, deputy chief medical officer Professor Paul Kelly said evidence showed the virus seemed to be milder than other coronaviruses like SARS.
On Thursday afternoon, NSW chief health officer Kerry Chant said two of the state’s four cases no longer had any signs or symptoms of the illness and they were discharged from hospital on Wednesday.
“They are not infectious, they do not present a risk to anyone,” she said.
Dr Chant said the two were also tested for the virus again as an “added precaution”, and those tests revealed no detectible traces on any samples.
The US and Japan have begun evacuating citizens from the Hubei province in China, while the Morrison government announced on Wednesday the Australians in Hubei would be given the option of evacuating to Christmas Island for a 14-day quarantine period.
Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese blasted this decision, suggesting the government was using the island’s detention centre out of “embarrassment”.
Health Minister Greg Hunt said the decision was made on the advice from the chief medical officers, and it was unanimously supported by the states and territories.
“Our job is to protect Australian citizens as well as provide support for those citizens overseas,” he said.
However, he said if people transported to Christmas Island become ill enough to require a medical transfer to a mainland Australian hospital, “we would do that immediately”.
He said Australian medical assistance teams were readying for the evacuees to arrive.
“They’ve secured medical personnel and they are prepared to deploy to Christmas Island, and they are forward deploying today,” he said.
Australians in China among global cases
Mr Hunt also confirmed two Australians did contract the coronavirus in China’s Guangdong province and received treatment there.
“The advice that I have, and I would want to be cautious, is they have been released and are not seeking consular assistance at this stage,” he said.
Professor Kelly said while experts were now certain it was possible for people to transmit the virus before they had symptoms, people could only transmit it via droplets from sneezing and coughing.
“In terms of walking past people in the street who may or may not be infected, that is also virtually totally safe,” he said.
“When we’re talking about contact we’re really talking about close contact over a period of time.”
The World Health Organisation’s (WHO) emergencies chief said on Wednesday China was taking “extraordinary measures in the face of an extraordinary challenge”.
Dr Michael Ryan spoke at a news conference after returning from a trip to Beijing to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping and other senior government leaders. He said the epidemic remains centred in the city of Wuhan and in Hubei province but that “information is being updated and is changing by the hour”.
r Ryan said the few cases of human-to-human spread of the virus outside China – in Japan, Germany, Canada and Vietnam – were part of the reason the UN health agency’s director-general has reconvened an expert committee to meet on Thursday. It will assess whether the outbreak should be declared a global emergency.
Story Credit: smh.com.au