Published: 18:29 EDT, 26 February 2020 | Updated: 05:56 EDT, 27 February 2020
Coronavirus may hit Australia harder than China because of the country’s ageing population, a leading bio-security expert has warned.
The flu-like virus, which spawned in Wuhan, China in December, is more severe in older people because their immune systems are weaker.
In Australia 16 per cent of the population are over 65, compared to just nine per cent in China, where some 2,700 have died.
On Thursday Prime Minister Scott Morrison extended Australia’s travel ban on China for another week.
In a press conference, he said the coronavirus outbreak would soon enter a pandemic phase and the Australian government would initiate its emergency response plan.
He said: ‘We believe that the risk of a pandemic is very much upon us.’
This map shows the number of cases of coronavirus as of 10am Sydney time on Thursday
The flu-like virus, which spawned in Wuhan, China in December, is more severe in older people because their immune systems are weaker (stock image)
Professor Raina MacIntyre, the head of Biosecurity at the University of New South Wales’s Kirby Institute, warned Australia could be hit harder than China.
‘The disease is clearly more severe the older you get,’ she told Daily Mail Australia on Thursday.
‘So we would see proportionately more severe disease because we have more older people than China does.’
Experts have raised fears that nursing homes will struggle to cope with a pandemic.
Deputy Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly told the Daily Telegraph that in a worst case scenario family visits would be banned, patients would be isolated and ‘end of life planning’ would be encouraged.
Professionals wearing protective gear prepare to disinfect against the coronavirus in South Korea
Civil protection and health workers deliver the evening meal at the Bel Sit hotel in Alassio, Italy
Last week the government lifted the ban on Year 11 and 12 students coming in from China under strict rules, and at the time said it would consider a controlled opening for Chinese university students a week later.
Foreign Minister Marise Payne said the government was constantly reviewing its position.
‘We have been meeting multiple occasions every week so at the highest levels of the government we are constantly reviewing our response to coronavirus,’ she told ABC Radio on Thursday.
‘Australia has prepared ourselves well but this is obviously a significant growing issue.’
Coronavirus is rapidly spreading around Europe. This map shows the cases in each nation
Animation shows how the new coronavirus has outpaced SARS, MERS and Ebola to sicken more than 81,000 people worldwide
A video shows how coronavirus has spread faster than SARS, MERS, Ebola and swine flu epidemics.
The clip – made by production company Abacaba, and uploaded to YouTube on February 12 – compares how quickly each disease spread once cases were reported.
At first, the coronavirus outbreak spread slower than Ebola, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and swine flu.
But, by Day 41 of their respective outbreaks, 243 were ill from Ebola, 182 were sickened by Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), 520 had come down with swine flu, and 3,600 were infected with SARS.
In comparison, on Day 41 of the coronavirus outbreak – February 12 – more than 41,700 people were infected worldwide.
Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton agreed the burgeoning spread of COVID-19, particularly in Italy, was concerning.
‘We are now talking about 42 countries outside of China,’ he told Sydney radio 2GB on Thursday.
‘People should be reassured in Australia though, we have been able to contain in the way that we have.’
The disease has a low death rate of around 2 per cent, only slightly higher than flu, and the spread rate is already declining in China – but governments around the world were preparing for the worst.
On Wednesday experts said that Australian schools would be closed and mass public gatherings would be banned if the coronavirus escalated into a pandemic.
Instead of going to the workplace, Australians would be made to work from home.
Hospitals would also struggle to cope with an influx of patients – with modelling predicting a massive shortfall of ‘coronavirus beds’.
In a worst-case scenario, Professor MacIntyre said that mass gatherings like sporting events and concerts would be banned and children would stay home from school.
Health experts were bracing for a scenario where up to 50 per cent of Australians get infected with the disease.
This map shows the travel warnings that are in place for Australians as of Wednesday
Schools would be closed and mass public gatherings would be banned if the coronavirus escalated into a pandemic, infectious diseases experts say
Measures to deal with a coronavirus pandemic
Mass gatherings cancelled
Source: Federal Department of Heath’s Australian Health Management Plan for Pandemic Influenza, May 2019
‘Closure of schools will be standard measures but may be implemented differently in different states,’ she told Daily Mail Australia on Wednesday.
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt has flagged the possible cancellation of sporting events like AFL and rugby league games.
‘The possibility is always there, but that is a last resort,’ he told reporters.
Offices would also be empty, with the federal government’s pandemic plan recommending workplace closures.
‘Businesses should start planning working from home arrangements,’ Professor MacIntyre said.
The infectious diseases researcher also feared hospitals would be overwhelmed, forcing the postponement of elective surgery and an expansion of intensive care units.
She has released modelling showing tens of thousands of intensive care beds would be needed to cope, going by the Chinese infection rate.
Should 50 per cent of Australians be infected with coronavirus, in an extreme case scenario, 650,000 intensive care beds would be needed as 1.8million people required hospitalisation in one year.
Professor Raina MacIntyre, the head of biosecurity at the University of New South Wales Kirby Institute, said that in a worst-case scenario, mass gatherings like sporting events and concerts would be banned as children stayed home from school
Professor Raina MacIntyre, the head of biosecurity at the University of New South Wales Kirby Institute has also released modelling showing a massive shortfall in ‘coronavirus beds’
‘The health system would need surge capacity, and fallback plans if needs cannot be met with existing beds and resources,’ Professor MacIntyre said.
‘If hospital beds run short, asking people with mild infection to stay home would be reasonable.
‘We would likely see elective surgery delayed or rescheduled and reprioritisation of acute care.’
Coronavirus in China has a fatality rate of 2.3 per cent.
Health authorities in every Australian state are on high alert after the American Centres for Disease Control and Prevention warned coronavirus was worse than first feared.
‘Current global circumstances suggest it’s likely this virus will cause a pandemic,’ the government agency’s principal deputy director Dr Anne Schuchat told reporters on Tuesday night.
Should a pandemic occur, Australia’s federal Department of Health warned hospitals were likely to be overrun.
‘Demand on primary health care will also increase, exacerbated by the need to attend to patients affected by the changes in availability of services at hospitals,’ it said last year in its Management Plan for Pandemic Influenza.
A coronavirus pandemic would also require measures to prevent diseases outbreaks in aged care homes and prisons.
Health Minister Greg Hunt has flagged the possible cancellation of sporting events, like AFL and rugby league games. Pictured are AFL Hawthorn Hawks supporters in Melbourne
FOOD AND HOUSEHOLD ITEMS TO STOCKPILE IN A PANDEMIC
Extra prescription medications, asthma relief inhalers
Over-the-counter anti-fever and pain medications
Feminine hygiene products
Family pack of toilet paper
Alcohol-containing hand rub
Household cleaning agents and soap
Tissues, paper towel
Cereals, grains, beans, lentils, pasta
Tinned food – fish, vegetables, fruit
Oil, spices and flavours
Dried fruit and nuts
Ultra-heat treated or powdered milk
Soft drink or candy/chocolate for treats
Pet food and care
Source: Virology Down Under by University of Queensland virologists Dr Ian Mackay and Dr Katherine Arden
The COVID-19 coronavirus has infected 80,000 people worldwide since it originated in December at an animal market in the Chinese city of Wuhan.
That included 23 people in Australia as of Wednesday.
A further seven Australians had been flown from the Diamond Princess cruise ship at Yokohama in Japan to a quarantine centre near Darwin, where they tested positive.
Coronavirus has killed more than 2,600 people globally and can cause severe lung damage and trigger multiple organ failure, particularly among the elderly or frail.
Australia is still in the containment stage of coronavirus.
Most contagion cases have occurred in China, with people also testing positive in South Korea, Japan and Italy.
Professor Sharon Lewin, the director of the University of Melbourne’s Doherty Institute, said a pandemic occurred when ‘there’s sustained human-to-human transmission in multiple countries’.
The Australian government extended the ban on those coming from mainland China until February 29.
The travel ban has meant that an estimated 65,000 Chinese students are unable to get to university.
The University of Melbourne said on Wednesday it would give students who have been affected by the virus and its ‘associated travel restrictions’ support packages of up to $7,500.
Eligible expenses include accommodation costs, fees from flight changes, costs associated with the 14-day quarantine period, and other financial losses.
University Provost Professor Mark Considine said it has been a ‘difficult time’ for affected students and the financial support would help ensure they can complete their studies on time.
A Chinese couple in protective masks and plastic coats shop in Beijing on February 11. A survival expert said shoppers in Australia should start preparing their cupboards for a food shortage
On Wednesday a survival expert warned Australians should to start stocking up on food and supplies in the event of a pandemic.
One of Australia’s leading survivalists said the nation’s shoppers should start bulking up their weekly shop before the virus’ spread leads to food supply shortages.
‘We should always be prepared for food shortages – not just from coronavirus but civil incidences, extreme weather and power outages which will cut us off from supply,’ Western Australian survival instructor Bob Cooper told Daily Mail Australia on Wednesday.
Stockpiling by panicked shoppers has already seen shelves emptied in Italian towns at the centre of the country’s outbreak in the northern Veneto and Lombardy regions.
Mr Cooper said it was too early for such panic here but said Australians should start thinking about whether their food cupboards can sustain them if the supply chain is broken.
CORONAVIRUS CASES IN AUSTRALIA: 25
NEW SOUTH WALES: 5
- Three men aged 43, 53, and 35 who had recently travelled to China contracted the disease.
- Two flew in from Wuhan while the other arrived in Sydney from Shenzhen, south China.
- They were treated in isolation at Westmead Hospital
- A 21-year-old woman is identified as the fourth person to test positive for the illness in NSW.
- The woman, a student at UNSW, flew into Sydney International Airport on flight MU749 on January 23 and presented to the emergency department 24 hours later after developing flu-like symptoms.
- A Chinese national aged in his 50s becomes the first confirmed case of the coronavirus in Australia.
- The man flew to Melbourne on China Southern flight CZ321 from Wuhan via Guangzhou on January 19.
- He was quarantined at Monash Hospital in Clayton in Melbourne’s east.
- A Victorian man in his 60s is diagnosed with the coronavirus.
- He became unwell on January 23 – two days after returning from the Chinese city of Wuhan, the epicentre of the outbreak.
- The man was confirmed as positive on January 29 and was subsequently seen by doctors at the Monash Medical Centre.
- A woman in her 40s is found to have coronavirus.
- She was visiting from China and mostly spent time with her family.
- She is being treated at Royal Melbourne Hospital.
- A woman in her 20s in Melbourne is found to have the virus
- Two passengers taken off the Diamond Princess cruise ship test positive
- February 25
- Third passenger taken off the cruise ship tests positive
- Queensland confirms its first case after a 44-year-old Chinese national was diagnosed with the virus. He is being treated at Gold Coast University Hospital.
- A 42-year-old Chinese woman who was travelling in the same Wuhan tour group as the 44-year-old man tests positive. She is in Gold Coast University Hospital in stable condition.
- An eight-year-old boy was diagnosed with coronavirus. He is also from the tour group where the other Queensland cases came from
- A 37-year-old man, who was a member of a group of nine Chinese tourists in quarantine on the Gold Coast, also tested positive
- A 37-year-old woman was diagnosed with coronavirus from the same travel group that flew to Queensland from Melbourne on January 27
- Two Queensland women, aged 54 and 55, tested positive for COVID-19 and will be flown to Brisbane for further treatment.
- A 57-year-old woman from Queensland also tested positive for the virus. February 28 A 63-year-old woman was confirmed to have the virus after returning to the Gold Coast from Iran.
SOUTH AUSTRALIA: 3
- A Chinese couple in their 60s who arrived in Adelaide from Wuhan to visit relatives are confirmed to have coronavirus.
- A 24-year-old woman from South Australia was transferred to Royal Adelaide Hospital
WESTERN AUSTRALIA: 1
- A 78-year-old man from Western Australia was transferred to Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital in Perth. On February 28, he was taken into intensive care in a ‘serious’ condition
DIAMOND PRINCESS CRUISE SHIP: 8
- Of the 23 overall cases in Australia, eight contracted the disease on the Diamond Princess cruise ship, which had gone into quarantine in the Japanese port of Yokohama
- They tested positive for the coronavirus after arriving at the Manigurr-ma Village Howard Springs facility in Darwin, and are now being treated in their home states