The COVID-19 outbreak is dominating the news — the disease has been confirmed in 10 new countries, the stock market is reacting and an emergency plan has been activated in Australia.
Let’s break down what all that means.
This story was being regularly updated throughout the day until late into Friday night. For the latest news on Saturday, go here.
Friday’s key moments
- Patients testing positive twice raises immunity questions
- Australian share market closes on a record low
- New Zealand confirms its first case of the virus
- 10 countries report first confirmed cases
- Australia’s health ministers prepare for a pandemic
- Australia activates its emergency plan
- Italy rates rise, Saudi Arabia suspends arrivals, Japan closes schools
- Want a country-by-country breakdown? Check out the latest figures
Symptoms to watch for
New South Wales Health has posted new advice for international travellers.
Those returning to Australia from the list of countries below are being told to watch out for respiratory symptoms or fever:
China, Cambodia, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Iran, Italy, Japan, Singapore, South Korea and Thailand.
So what symptoms should you be looking out for?
- Sore throat
- Shortness of breath
NSW chief health officer Dr Kerry Chant said symptoms could be very mild.
“If symptoms develop, immediately isolate yourself and call your doctor or health direct 1800 022 222 for an assessment,” Dr Chant said.
New case confirmed in Queensland
A 63-year-old woman is in isolation in the Gold Coast University Hospital after testing positive to the virus.
The woman had recently returned to Australia from Iran.
It’s Queensland’s sixth confirmed case of COVID-19.
Reports of patients testing positive twice
There have been reports of coronavirus patients testing positive to the virus again after they’ve been discharged from hospital.
In Japan, a woman who had the virus and recovered tested positive for a second time — and second positive tests have also been reported in China.
This could mean that just because you’ve had the disease once, that doesn’t make you immune from getting it again.
Experts have a few explanations for this:
- The discharged patients might not have built up enough antibodies to develop immunity to SARS-CoV-2, and are being infected again.
- The virus could be “biphasic” — which means it lies dormant before creating new symptoms
- Some cases of “reinfection” could be attributed to testing discrepancies
Song Tie, from a local disease control centre in China’s Guangdong province, said as many as 14 per cent of discharged patients in the province had tested positive again.
But he said none of those patients appeared to have infected anyone else.
Adam Kamradt-Scott, a specialist in infectious diseases at the University of Sydney, said the second infection was usually less severe.
China has so far discharged 36,117 patients, according to data from the National Health Commission released on Friday.
That’s about 46 per cent of the total cases on the Chinese mainland.
Switzerland bans large gatherings
The Swiss Government has banned events expected to attract crowds of more than 1,000 people.
According to latest figures, Switzerland has five confirmed coronavirus cases.
“In view of the current situation and the spread of the coronavirus, the Federal Council has categorised the situation in Switzerland as ‘special’ in terms of the Epidemics Act,” the Swiss Government said in a statement
The ban will be in place until March 15.
Meanwhile, Mongolian state media have reported its President, Mattulga Khaltmaa, has been quarantined as a precaution after he returned from a trip to China.
Currently, Mongolia has no COVID-19 cases.
South Korea tops China’s daily total
South Korea reported 571 new cases of the virus, bringing the country’s total number of infections to 2,337.
This is the first time another country’s daily increase surpassed that of China, which reported 327 new cases on Friday.
Daegu and surrounding areas accounted for most of its new infections, South Korean health officials said.
The news came a day after K-pop superstars BTS cancelled several concerts in Seoul, which were scheduled for April.
The band’s management agency said it was unclear how widespread the outbreak would be in April.
“Please understand that this decision was made after extensive and careful consideration,” the band said in a statement.
Meanwhile, rock band Green Day has postponed upcoming shows in Asia.
And the US National Symphony Orchestra has cancelled performances in Japan, after earlier cancelling concerts in Beijing and Shanghai.
Californian case ‘a turning point’
Health officials say a woman who tested positive for the virus in California might be the first US case to be infected without traveling internationally or being in close contact with a patient.
A Californian health official said the woman’s diagnosis “marks a turning point” in the outbreak in the US.
The epicentre of this new development is Vacaville, about 16 kilometres from the Travis Air Force Base — which is where US passengers on the quarantined Diamond Princess cruise ship were evacuated to.
But public health officials said they could not find a connection between the infected woman and the passengers.
It’s raised questions about whether the virus can spread beyond preventative measures like quarantines.
Californian health officials said the risk of widespread transmission remained low, but that hasn’t stopped some Vacaville locals from stocking up on emergency supplies.
There are 33 confirmed virus cases in the state of California, health officials say.
Stock market closes low
Australia’s share market continued to tumble.
At the close, the ASX 200 was down 3.25 per cent at 6,441.
This is a steep drop from last Thursday, when the ASX 200 had a record closing high of 7,162.
It’s the biggest weekly drop for both Australian and US share markets since October 2008 — and that was right at the peak of the global financial crisis.
The Australian dollar has also again plumbed financial crisis depths, falling to a fresh 11-year low of 65.17 US cents during afternoon trade.
We unpack this a little more in the video below:
Prime Minister Scott Morrison earlier said Australia was now “better prepared” to deal with the economic impact of the global outbreak.
“We’ve got a strong, stable financial base to address this,” he said.
“But we can’t kid ourselves that the impact of the coronavirus globally here on Australia is not going to be significant.”
He said the Government would consider “modest, targeted and scalable measures” to deal with the situation.
Where has the virus spread?
Reuters reported at least 10 countries had confirmed first cases of the virus in the past day.
This includes New Zealand, Lithuania, Nigeria and the Netherlands.
The Dutch public health institute said its first coronavirus patient had recently visited the Lombardy region in Italy and was in isolation.
The virus has caused nearly 80,000 infections and almost 2,800 deaths in China, according official Chinese figures.
It has spread to another 46 countries, where about 3,700 cases and 57 deaths have been reported, according to the WHO.
New Zealand confirms first case
The outbreak has reached New Zealand, with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern confirming the country’s first positive diagnosis on Friday.
Health authorities said the patient, a person in their 60s, had returned from Iran on an Emirates flight that landed in Auckland on Wednesday.
The patient is being treated in an Auckland hospital and other members of their household have been isolated.
This comes on the same day New Zealand introduced temporary travel restrictions on travellers from Iran.
New Zealand’s Health Minister also said the country would not allow any exemptions for overseas students from China, and health staff presence at international airports would be increased.
WA cruise ship passenger tests positive
The female patient was a passenger on the Diamond Princess cruise ship, which was quarantined in Japan.
She was evacuated to Darwin with her husband, who had earlier tested positive to the disease.
The woman was quarantined while her husband was isolated in a Perth hospital.
She did not have symptoms of the disease at the time of her husband’s hospitalisation, but she has since tested positive.
Getting workplaces ready
The World Health Organisation has published advice on how to get your workplace ready for COVID-19.
It includes tips like:
- Making sure workplaces are clean and hygienic
- Promoting regular, thorough hand-washing by employees, contractors and customers
- Promoting good respiratory hygiene in the workplace
- Advising people to consult travel advisories before business trips
- For places where COVID-19 is spreading in the community, asking people to stay home from work if they have symptoms, even if they’re just a mild cough, low-grade fever (37.3 degrees Celsius or more) or if they have taken medicines like paracetamol, ibuprofen or aspirin, because these can mask symptoms
“Employers should start doing these things now, even if COVID-19 has not arrived in the communities where they operate,” the document says.
Why aren’t there more COVID-19 cases in India yet?
From our India correspondent James Oaten:
Sitting right next to China is the world’s second-most-populous country, India.
But despite being home to 1.3 billion people, it has so far defied expectations and kept the rate of coronavirus infection low.
Only three people have been confirmed as having contracted COVID-19, but all have since made a recovery and been discharged from hospital.
While it has puzzled some, there are actually a few reasons that can explain the low number of cases.
Firstly, compared with other Asian countries, India does not have strong connections to China — either in tourism or manufacturing.
It was also quick to suspend online tourist visas for Chinese passport holders after the outbreak and the Government ramped up security at its already heavily fortified and mountainous border with China.
In fact, India was able to start evacuating Indian nationals from Wuhan before Australia did.
But while it has so far fared well, health experts have warned the country is susceptible to an outbreak due to its dense population, high rate of internal migration, and a patchy health care system.
Rudd calls for economic response to coronavirus
Former prime minister Kevin Rudd has criticised the Government’s economic response to COVID-19.
He warned of economic impacts cascading to Australia from countries hit hard by the virus, like China, and said economic stimulus was needed to support the Government’s pandemic plan.
“There was a strong case for targeted economic stimulus even before the coronavirus outbreak late last year,” Mr Rudd said in a statement.
“It’s good that we have a public health plan, but what’s missing is an economic plan.”
Containing the spread
A lot of the messages in Friday’s media conference with Australian health authorities focused on slowing the spread of disease if it does start transmitting in Australia, and helping people manage at home if they do get sick — and with good reason.
Protecting the hospital system from overload will make for a more sustainable response to an outbreak in Australia, chief medical officer Brendan Murphy said.
“What we are going to try and do when we get our first cases, if we get our first cases, is to try and contain as much as possible by isolating people in their homes, most people would not need hospital treatment,” he said.
“One scenario would be over two to three months you had a slow spread of infection amongst part of the community but with a small number of people needing hospital treatment for severe pneumonia. If that is a bigger number, that could have significant impacts on the hospital system.”
How to protect yourself against COVID-19: A reminder
Firstly, there’s no evidence of COVID-19 spreading in the community in Australia so far. Common sense applies here.
But if you are worried, here is how to minimise your risk:
- Wash your hands properly: Soap and water are two of our most powerful allies against infectious disease. Hand washing should take at least 20 seconds (hum “Happy Birthday” to yourself twice as you wash to keep track)
- Be careful what you touch: We don’t know how long the virus can survive on surfaces. Keep surfaces that are touched regularly clean, and avoid touching your nose, mouth or eyes, especially if you haven’t washed your hands for a while
- If you’re at risk of COVID-19 (for example, if you’ve been in contact with someone with the illness or you’ve travelled somewhere there’s an outbreak) and you’ve got flu-like symptoms, phone your GP. But don’t show up to a GP practice or hospital without telling them first, as they will need to arrange to protect others before you arrive
- Get a flu shot when the time comes: There’s no vaccine against COVID-19 (yet — and there won’t be for some months), but using the vaccines we do have will help ease the burden on the health system and make it easier to identify COVID-19.
Put down the masks
Don’t waste face masks by wearing them out of fear of the coronavirus, Professor Murphy says.
Even though the Federal Government has activated its emergency response plan in anticipation of the virus being declared a pandemic, there’s actually no evidence of community transmission in Australia so far.
“Whilst we are preparing and we are realistic about what might come in future weeks, we are not in a situation where anyone needs to be concerned. No-one should go around wearing and wasting face masks, please,” Professor Murphy says.
Federal minister Greg Hunt says there are around 20 million masks in the national medical stockpile.
Australians are turning to Google for answers
Online searches can reveal a lot about what’s on our minds — and Australians are flocking to the internet for information on preparing for a pandemic, according to Google Trends.
Search terms like “what to stock up on for pandemic” have shot up by more than 7,000 per cent, tweets Anna Vreeland, a data journalism fellow at Google News Lab.
Stockpiling as a topic is also trending, Ms Freeland notes.
The surge in interest around the term “pandemic” is echoed worldwide.
Search interest is up 780 per cent in the past week globally, with the most searches coming from Paraguay, Guatemala and Colombia.
Health ministers in planning mode
Mr Hunt has been in a meeting with his state and territory counterparts. He says:
- Elderly people and people with immune problems have been identified as most at risk
- Supply chains are strong for basic protective supplies such as face masks and hand sanitisers
- Soap and water are as good for hand hygiene as anything else
- In general, the risk to Australians remains low
Now in Nigeria
Nigeria has confirmed its first case of COVID-19, the first in sub-Saharan Africa.
The patient is an Italian citizen who flew into Lagos from Milan.
The commissioner for health for Lagos said the patient was clinically stable with no serious symptoms and was being managed at a Lagos hospital.
Australia activates emergency plan
The outbreak hasn’t officially been declared a pandemic by the WHO yet, but that didn’t stop the Federal Government pulling the trigger on its emergency plan on Thursday.
It’s now operating on the basis the virus is a pandemic.
“We moved 10 days ahead of the WHO last time and we were right,” Mr Morrison told Channel 9’s Today Show.
“We are getting the same advice from [Professor Murphy] that is: we have got ahead, stay ahead in getting these other plans in place should there be a transmission of the disease in Australia.”
No travel ban changes for now
As for extending the travel ban to other countries than China, Mr Morrison said that wasn’t on the table for the time being.
“That’s not the medical advice either. The medical advice is that is not proportional to the risk, and once it gets to sort of the stage where it’s affecting so many countries, the advice is that you have to prepare for it going into pandemic phase,” he told ABC News Breakfast.
What does our emergency response look like?
It’s the Australian Health Sector Emergency Response Plan for Novel Coronavirus (the COVID-19 Plan), which guides the health sector’s response.
The point of the plan is to ensure there are enough medical staff, supplies and personal protective equipment across the country.
The idea is that if the disease does start spreading in Australia, we’re equipped to slow the spread and contain it as much as possible.
The scope of the emergency response will be escalated according to the spread of the disease. In the worst case, that would include:
- Cancelling large gatherings
- People having to work from home
- Elective surgeries being suspended
- Intensive care bed numbers increased
- Mortuary services prioritised
- Aged care homes locked down
- Childcare centres closed
But Mr Morrison says that level of response is not yet needed.
Doctors are preparing for the worst
Doctors are warning that Australia’s emergency medicine services are already stretched, and a pandemic could overwhelm them.
The plan is robust and rightly focused on prevention and preparation, but a bad flu season can already stretch our healthcare systems to the limit, points out Simon Judkins, the former president of the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine.
Deputy chief medical officer Paul Kelly rejected reports the illness could infect everyone in Australia, but said authorities were preparing for a range of scenarios.
“That’s one of them, that the virus will indeed become like the common cold or a flu virus in terms of continuing to come perhaps in the winter months,” he said.
“So that may happen, it may be a one-off wave that comes through and infects a certain wave of the population, it won’t be everybody I can absolutely guarantee that, or it won’t come at all.”
Professor Kelly said he was surprised the World Health Organisation had not yet declared a pandemic.
“When you look at their own definition of what a pandemic is, it doesn’t actually bring in an issue of severity but rather spread,” he said.
“And so their own definition says if it’s spreading … in more than one country, in more than one region of the world, then that’s when they start to move towards that definition.”
China’s regaining confidence
Now that there are more cases being reported outside China than inside, Chinese authorities are eager to shed the virus stigma and questions about its early handling of the epidemic.
President Xi Jinping said on Thursday: “We have the confidence, the ability and the certainty to win this war against the epidemic.”
And Chinese respiratory disease specialist Zhong Nanshan predicted China’s outbreak should be “basically under control” by the end of April.
He credited strong measures taken by the Government and the work of medical workers for helping curb the spread.
What’s happening elsewhere in the world?
- Italy’s number of confirmed coronaviruses has grown to 650, up from 400 on Wednesday evening. (A week ago, the number was three.) They’ve had three more deaths, bringing the country’s toll to 15. Officials have said all of the patients were elderly, had other illnesses or both.
- Saudi Arabia has suspended arrivals from some two dozen countries where COVID-19 has spread. The decision comes ahead of the holy fast of Ramadan, which begins in late April, when visits by Muslims to the kingdom accelerate.
- Japan’s entire school system, from primary to high schools, will be asked to close from March 2 until their upcoming spring break late in the month — when the school year would usually end — to help contain the coronavirus outbreak, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said on Thursday. Disneyland Tokyo will be closed until March 15, with all Walt Disney Co theme parks in Asia temporarily shut.
- In the United States, California is monitoring 8,400 people for virus symptoms — people who arrived in the state from domestic commercial flight.
- Russia temporarily barred Iranians from entering the country and will restrict the entry of South Koreans from March 1 as a precaution.
- Vietnam plans to suspend visa-free travel for South Koreans starting on Saturday.
- Battulga Khaltmaa, Mongolia’s President, has been quarantined as a precaution after he returned from a trip to China, state media reported. Mongolia has no confirmed cases of the virus.
Global figures at a glance
These are the latest figures, as of Friday evening:
Mainland China: 78,824 cases, 2,788 deaths
South Korea: 2,337 cases, 13 deaths
Japan: 927 cases, including 705 from the Diamond Princess cruise ship, 9 deaths
Italy: 650 cases, 15 deaths
Iran: 254 cases, 26 deaths
Hong Kong: 92 cases, 2 deaths
Singapore: 96 cases
United States: 60 cases
Kuwait: 45 cases
Thailand: 41 cases
France: 38 cases, 2 deaths
Taiwan: 34 cases, 1 death
Bahrain: 33 cases
Malaysia: 25 cases
Australia: 23 cases
Germany: 21 cases
United Arab Emirates: 19 cases
Spain: 17 cases
Vietnam: 16 cases
United Kingdom: 15 cases
Canada: 14 cases
Macao: 10 cases
Sweden: 7 cases
Iraq and Oman: 6 cases each
Russia, Croatia, Switzerland: 5 cases each
Greece: 4 cases
Philippines: 3 cases, 1 death
India, Israel, Lebanon: 3 cases each
Pakistan, Finland and Austria: 2 cases each
Egypt, Algeria, Afghanistan, North Macedonia, Georgia, Estonia, Lithuania, Belgium, Netherlands, Romania, Belarus, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Norway, Denmark, Brazil, New Zealand, Nigeria: 1 case each
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