BEYOND THE HEADLINES

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As the spread of coronavirus and resultant fatalities continue to make headlines, it is time to look at the complete information.

Lucy (name changed) hails from Chengdu, capital of southwestern China’s Sichuan province. Every few months her in-laws travel to Melbourne to visit her family here to spend time with her two little boys. With the outbreak of novel coronavirus, now known as COVID-19, Lucy is saddened that the visits are uncertain for now as Australia has extended its travel ban to at least February 22 on people who have travelled through China. Also, a lot of countries have banned flights to and from China at the moment, rues Lucy.

But it is not just families taking the hit. Ethnic business enclaves such as Box Hill and Chinatown are quiet. On February 13, Melbourne’s much loved and popular Shark Fin House announced closure of the restaurant after 31 years of operation as customer inflow collapsed over coronavirus fears.

Shark Fin House co-owner Gabriel Chan wept describing how people had been scared to come to the venue, a favoured lunch spot for many for more than 30 years and how he was forced to close the doors on the restaurant he co-founded in 1989.

The coronavirus is expected to deliver Australia its worst economic performance since the start of the global financial crisis. Universities are bracing for a significant financial hit if the coronavirus travel ban continues, with more than 80 per cent of Chinese students enrolled at some institutions still stuck overseas as lectures are set to resume. Companies are struggling to get key components for cars, TVs and smartphones out of China.

The Federal Parliament’s first Chinese-born MP Gladys Liu urged people ‘not to be scared’ and that there was nothing to panic about.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews on February 15, posted on Facebook that restaurants in Box Hill and Chinatown are deserted by the day, not because of medical advice but largely based on fear. To view that Chinese people and restaurants should be avoided is discriminatory he wrote and asked people to get out and have a meal. “Don’t let fear ruin what’s great about our state,” he appealed.

Meanwhile in a last-ditch evacuation, it was reported that Qantas would fly from Darwin to Tokyo to pick up at least 170 passengers bussed from Yokohama who were aboard the Diamond Princess cruise liner. Of the 220 Australians originally aboard the ship, more than 20 have been infected, while at least 20 had yet to indicate they wanted to get on the flight after deadline on February 18.

It was also reported that more than 100 Australians, including children, remain trapped in the centre of the outbreak in China’s Hubei province.

According to the Department of Health, as of February 19, there are 15 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Australia – 5 in Queensland, 4 in New South Wales, 4 in Victoria and 2 in South Australia.

Across the world, there have been about 73,434 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 1,873 reported deaths. Of confirmed cases reported globally, the case fatality rate is approximately 2.6 percent. The case fatality rate in countries and regions outside mainland China is 0.5 percent.

The numbers in Australia has remained steady at 15 with five people having recovered and 10 stable. The government has adopted certain measures such as advising residents to avoid travel to China, evacuating Australians from Wuhan to quarantine facilities on Christmas Island and outside Darwin, and banning arrivals from China of non-citizens and permanent residents till Feb 22 until further orders.

The Guardian quoting Prof Mark Walker, director of the Australian Infectious Disease Research Centre at the University of Queensland, says Australia has had to respond to the novel coronavirus outbreak by imagining the worst that might happen.

Lauding the country’s national response so far, the Australian Medical Association said the government has acted in accordance with international best practice but criticised the choice of remote Christmas Island as a quarantine facility, noting specialist teams had to be flown to the island.

$2 MN INVESTMENT TO HELP DEVELOP VACCINE
With its priority to keep Australians safe, the Morrison Government is fast tracking $2 million in funding to support Australia’s best researchers as they work to understand and respond to the outbreak of novel coronavirus. The $2 million investment will help develop a coronavirus vaccine.

Following a meeting of leading Australian researchers last week, the Government is providing the funding from the Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) for an open and competitive Grant Opportunity to develop a coronavirus vaccine. This Grant Opportunity will complement the world-leading work already undertaken by the Doherty Institute, CSIRO and University of Queensland and their collaboration.

The ability to swiftly react to emerging health issues is a key strength of the MRFF, which was established in 2015 to support health and medical research and innovation for the benefit of all Australians.

The meeting, chaired by Deputy Chief Medical Officer Professor Paul Kelly, included eminent experts from across Australia including the three centres of research excellence working on epidemic preparedness, the WHO Collaborating Centre on Influenza, the CSIRO and states and territories.

WHAT IS CORONAVIRUS?
Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that can make humans and animals sick. They cause illnesses that can range from the common cold to more severe diseases.
Coronavirus (COVID-19) was first reported in December 2019 in Wuhan City in China.

SYMPTOMS
Can range from mild illness to pneumonia. Some people will recover easily, and others may get very sick very quickly. People with coronavirus may experience fever, flu-like symptoms such as coughing, sore throat and fatigue, shortness of breath.

WHO IS AT RISK?
Most cases of coronavirus (COVID-19) are in Wuhan City in Hubei Province, China.
In Australia, the people most at risk of getting the virus are those who have recently been in mainland China and been in close contact with someone who is a confirmed case of coronavirus

HOW ITS SPREADS
There is evidence that the virus spreads from person-to-person, especially in Hubei Province.
The virus is most likely spread through: close contact with an infectious person, contact with droplets from an infected person’s cough or sneeze, touching objects or surfaces (like doorknobs or tables) that have cough or sneeze droplets from an infected person, and then touching your mouth or face.

PREVENTION
A surgical mask will not protect you against the virus. Everyone should practise good hygiene to protect against infections. Good hygiene includes: washing your hands often with soap and water, using a tissue and cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze, avoiding close contact with others, such as touching.

CONCLUSION
Some experts are of the opinion that media coverage on coronavirus has tended towards scare, and information has been incomplete. Most of the deaths reported have occurred among high-risk groups such as the elderly and people with other conditions. For the average person in Australia who hasn’t been travelling, the chance of contracting coronavirus is almost zero, says experts.

(TIW, agencies, https://health.govcms.gov.au/)