The coronavirus global death toll reached 3,048 on Tuesday morning. (Ryu Young-seok/Yonhap via AP)
Three more Australians have coronavirus after returning from Iran as hospitals brace for influx
Coronavirus is spreading much more rapidly outside China than within the country, leading the world into uncharted territory, but the outbreak can still be contained, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has said.
This story is being updated regularly. Follow along for the latest.
Key moments today
Morrison talks coronavirus, recession
Prime Minister Scott Morrison spoke on 7.30 live just a little earlier, and coronavirus was one of the first topics mentioned.
Host Leigh Sales asked the PM if the combination of the coronavirus and bushfires would drive Australia into a recession — but there was no “yes” or “no” at this stage.
“I am not getting ahead of these issues,” Mr Morrison said.
“What we have done on the coronavirus is focus very much on the health challenge and that is what we always have to put first and that health challenge is a very serious one.
“But, at the same time, we know that this global health crisis around the coronavirus is going to have very significant and very real economic impacts which we are already feeling here in Australia and is being felt in many other countries, in most I should say, all around the world.
“So, we will see how that plays out.”
Tweet @abc730 But the global shock from the virus – coming on top of domestic problems of drought, bushfires and a sluggish economy
Australia’s confirmed cases rise to 38 (and other quick stats)
The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Australia has risen to 38 today, up from 33 with four new cases in NSW and one in QLD.
Here’s some more quick updates from around the world (thanks to Reuters):
- Coronavirus has spread to more than 60 countries
- There’s been more than 80,000 confirmed cases in China, and over 8,700 outside China (this number is rising)
- The global death toll is now over 3,000 — most of those within China
- More than 66 people have died of the virus in Iran, with six reported deaths in the Seattle area in the US
- Morocco, Andorra, Armenia, Czech Republic, Iceland and Indonesia have all confirmed their first cases
More than 2,000 cases have been reported in Italy, and the death toll jumped from 34 to 52 in one day this week
Airline staff asked to take unpaid leave
Emirates is asking staff to take unpaid leave for up to a month at a time as coronavirus (and related travel restrictions) causes widespread flight cancellations, Reuters reports.
Chief Operating Officer Adel al-Redha released a statement saying because of all the flight cancellations, the airline had more resources than it needed.
“Considering the availability of additional resources and the fact that many employees want to utilise their leave, we have provided our employees the option to avail leave or apply for voluntary unpaid leave for up to one month at a time,” he said.
Emirates has cancelled flights to Bahrain, Iran and most of China due to the outbreak.
Ryde Hospital doctor diagnosed
One of the people diagnosed with coronavirus in NSW yesterday has been revealed as a Ryde Hospital doctor.
The 53-year-old was one of the first person-to-person transmissions of coronavirus in Australia.
NSW chief medical officer Kerry Chant said he had been working with a “diverse range of patients” — the patients are being contacted.
Staff who worked with the man have been put on leave.
To mask or not to mask
People who are unwell are encouraged to wear face masks, as they provide a barrier against “respiratory droplets” from coughing or sneezing.
But regular surgical masks don’t provide a seal around the face, and therefore don’t filter viral airborne particles.
So for healthy people, are they really going to prevent coronavirus?
Well, not really.
UNSW infectious disease epidemiologist Abrar Chughtai told us surgical face masks aren’t designed to provide respiratory protection.
“Sick people should use face masks. For healthy people … at the community level, there is no use for face masks,” Dr Chughtai said.
For health care workers though, it’s a different story — face masks are strongly recommended.
“They are in direct and close contact with patients … so they should use face masks or respirators,” Dr Chughtai said.
People around the world have flocked to stock up on face masks, like these ladies pictured in London. (Reuters/Henry Nicholls)
People are keen to stay up to date
Coronavirus has been all over the news for weeks now, but people are still looking for as much info on it as they can.
Google’s top trending related search terms over the past week say it all:
- Coronavirus symptoms adults
- N95 masks Australia
- Launceston coronavirus
- Coronavirus Bali update
- Coronavirus vaccine update
- Hand sanitiser
- Coronavirus Gold Coast
- France coronavirus
- Coronavirus Germany
- Smart traveller Italy
Read more about the most-Googled coronavirus questions (and answers from the experts!) here.
Jump in cases ‘inevitable’ but not alarming
Associate Professor of infectious diseases at the Australian National University, Sanjaya Senanayake, told Afternoon Briefing that he’s not surprised or alarmed by a rise in the rate of infections.
Professor Senanayake said the thought of travel bans for countries like Italy was “uncharted territory” — and it may not even have the desired effect.
“If we’re trying to stop the outbreak getting to Australia, I don’t think it would work,” he said.
“It might delay the level of transmission we’re seeing in Australia, if some bans were instituted on countries with high levels of coronavirus transmission.
“But within a day or two, that could be a lot more countries than we’re seeing right now.”
Canberra Hospital infectious diseases physician & microbiologist Peter Collignon also told the ABC more coronavirus cases in Australia are “inevitable”.
“If you look at the data coming from China, this is less infectious than I would have expected,” Professor Collignon said.
“I think it is inevitable that we will see more cases given what has happened all over the world but I don’t think it is inevitable that we will see widespread uncontained cases through the community.”
There’s still a lot of people panic buying
More and more photos are emerging of empty supermarket shelves around the country, with things like toilet paper, basic medicines like paracetomol and cold and flu tablets, and packaged foods the first to go.
University of Queensland virologist Ian Mackay says a little bit of preparation can help people feel in control, but it’s not about “panic buying”, it’s more about making smart purchases.
“We can get in a bit of stock foods, dried foods, dried fruits, some medicines — if you have any prescriptions it’s good to get those filled now,” he told the ABC.
“We can be a little bit ahead of that curve and we’ve still got plenty of time because the virus isn’t spreading widely here yet.”
Australia ‘well-prepared’ to manage an outbreak
Professor Lyn Gilbert from the University of Sydney’s Emerging Infectious Diseases and Biosecurity Institute had a chat with ABC News 24 earlier.
She said as soon as experts became aware of coronavirus, existing pandemic plans were constantly being updated with the most up-to-date information.
“The evidence is that it will probably spread within the community, but it will do so slowly and in a way that we are well prepared to manage,” she said.
Professor Gilbert said while it will take a lot of effort to make sure the situation is well-managed, it can be done.
“It will depend on people taking the advice to stay at home when they are sick, to be careful with their hand hygiene and their cough etiquette, and to make sure that they take some personal responsibility for both protecting themselves and, if they do get sick, protecting others as much as possible,” she said.
First traveller from Singapore tests positive in NSW
New South Wales has confirmed four new cases of coronavirus today.
They include a 53-year-old man who recently travelled to Singapore.
It’s the first case in NSW to date that appears to have come from Singapore, with 13 cases confirmed in the state so far.
A 39-year-old man who travelled from Iran and two women in their 60s who recently returned from South Korea and Japan also tested positive.
Wash your hands and don’t touch your face
Two of your greatest defences against catching COVID-19 (and many other illnesses) are simple soap and water. Here’s how to make sure you’re using them as effectively as possible.
- Use clean, running water
- Use soap — liquid soap is less likely to harbour germs than bar soap, but either is better than nothing
- Give yourself at least 20 seconds to get the job done (sing “Happy Birthday”* to yourself twice through to keep track, if you don’t mind the odd sideways glance from your fellow hand-washers)
- If you don’t have access to a sink, a hand sanitiser that contains at least 60 per cent alcohol is the next best thing
In order to make you sick, coronavirus needs to get into your respiratory system via your mouth, nose or eyes.
It’s possible to pick up the virus from touching a contaminated surface, such as a doorknob or bench, but you won’t get sick if the virus doesn’t go any further than your hands.
You won’t only be protecting yourself against coronavirus either — you’ll also help yourself and those around you avoid colds, flu and gastrointestinal illnesses.
* If “Happy Birthday” isn’t your jam, this Twitter thread provides some alternative songs to hum at the sink, featuring Beyonce, Dolly Parton and Toto:
Jen Monnier tweet: You’re supposed to wash your hands for 20 sec, which is the time it takes to sing Happy Birthday twice
Uni student, 20, diagnosed in Queensland
A 20-year-old student from China has been confirmed as Queensland’s latest case of coronavirus.
The University of Queensland student travelled to Dubai for at least two weeks last month, and he’s now in isolation in hospital.
His housemate, also a UQ student, is being tested as a precaution but isn’t feeling unwell right now.
UQ released a statement saying it was providing support to the student, and that authorities don’t believe he visited any UQ campuses after he arrived in Australia.
Queensland has ten confirmed cases to date.
Reserve Bank slashes interest rates
The Reserve Bank has slashed interest rates to a record low of just 0.5 per cent in an attempt to contain the economic fallout from the coronavirus crisis.
Following a summer of bushfires, which Treasury expects to knock around 0.2 percentage points from Australia’s economic growth, coronavirus threatens to cause even greater economic fallout.
At a press conference earlier today, the Prime Minister urged banks to “do their bit” by passing on any cut in full to support the economy.
How might Australia’s biosecurity laws affect COVID-19 patients?
Attorney-General Christian Porter says Australians can be detained or forced into treatment in a last-ditch effort to halt the spread of coronavirus by the activation of rarely used Commonwealth laws that were introduced in 2015.
At the most extreme end of the spectrum, someone either showing symptoms of, or having been exposed to coronavirus, could be detained and forced to undergo treatment or decontamination if they refused to comply with directions from health authorities.
A control order may include:
- Quarantining at home
- Wearing protective equipment such as gowns or masks
- Undergoing examination by health professionals
- Giving samples for diagnosis
- Forcing vaccinations or other treatments
Specific areas could also be locked down or isolated. The Diamond Princess cruise ship is an example of one of these zones.
What are the symptoms?
A common question we’re hearing about COVID-19 is: “What are the symptoms?”
The answer is it’s not much different to the flu for most people.
Many people who’ve been infected have had a fever, dry cough, runny nose and muscle aches and pains. Less commonly, some have had diarrhoea.
In the most severe cases, the virus causes pneumonia — the infection of one or both lungs.
If you have flu-like symptoms, phone your GP and explain your symptoms and travel history.
But if you think it’s likely you have COVID-19, don’t make an appointment or attend a practice or hospital without letting them know first, as they will need to make arrangements to protect others before you arrive.
Compulsory isolation raises human rights questions
Isolation is one of the key pillars of the containment strategy for COIVD-19, but there is a legal question about whether isolation — at home or in a hospital — is compulsory and what the consequences might be for those who refuse to comply, writes medical law expert Morgan Shimwell.
Any powers that detain people and force the sharing of health information interfere with the most basic human rights: the right to liberty and the right to privacy, he notes.
And if people must be detained, their rights and wellbeing need to be respected.
Don’t fear handshakes yet, chief medical officer says
Chief medical officer Brendan Murphy has played down the NSW Health Minister’s suggestions that Australians should avoid handshaking.
Dr Murphy stressed that the two cases of transmission on Australian soil, which came to light yesterday, were “very isolated” and that there’s no evidence of widespread community transmission here.
There was no reason for people to stop going to mass gatherings or take any special precautions at this stage, unless they’ve come from countries where the disease is spreading, or they have symptoms of illness, he said.
“If you have come back from South Korea or Italy or Iran, then we would certainly want you to practise some social distancing, not go to mass gatherings,” he said.
“In that context, shaking hands, is probably best avoided.
“We are not suggesting those practices should be considered by the broader general community.”
Prime Minister flags stimulus package
The Prime Minister has just spoken about the economic impacts of the COVID-19 outbreak.
Scott Morrison said the Government had been talking to the Reserve Bank about the issue, which has contributed to a drop in financial markets worldwide, including in Australia.
Mr Morrison said the Government was looking to pull together a “moderate” stimulus package to help businesses weather the economic fallout of the virus, which has disrupted supply chains.
“The most important thing is the cash flow, particularly of more vulnerable small and medium-sized enterprises.”
Victoria preparing for ‘tens of thousands’ of cases
Daniel Andrews and Health Minister Jenny Mikakos toured the Doherty Institute this morning. (AAP: David Crosling)
Victoria has allocated an extra $6 million for research and flagged possible delays to elective surgery as it prepares for a potential scenario where tens of thousands of people will need care.
Premier Daniel Andrews said the Government was not yet implementing changes to the hospital system but future changes could include delaying non-urgent care or procedures if the virus began spreading in the local community.
Nine people have tested positive for COVID-19 in Victoria so far.
The State Government’s $6 million injection for Melbourne’s Doherty Institute to work with the Burnet Institute and other experts to fast-track new treatments and vaccines for COVID-19 comes on top of a $3.2 million donation for the institute announced today by the Jack Ma Foundation.
What steps have you taken to prepare?
While we’re still being told to go about our normal lives, under a worst-case scenario in Australia, infection control measures could include things like aged care homes being locked down, childcare centres being closed and people having to work from home.
Experts are warning against panic-buying (already supermarket shelves are starting to empty), but say having plans and supplies in place is sensible.
We asked what you’ve done to prepare — if anything — and here’s what you said.
“We’ve quietly cleaned out the pantry and restocked with enough food for a couple of weeks. Our family doctor has given us extra scripts for our regular medications and we’ve filled them.”
— Sarah C
“Have started buying additional long-life and tinned products including pet products. Not ‘panic-mode’ shopping.”
— Jeanette O
“As a student, I work a casual job earning minimum wages and certainly do not have the money to buy weeks’ worth of food. Stocking up is for the wealthy, not for a student like me.”
— Simone K
“If worse comes to worse, I’ll buy my groceries online and then just Netflix and chill.”
— Jen F
China’s air quality has improved … for now
There’s been a steep drop in carbon emissions and other pollutants in China thanks to its efforts to control the spread of COVID-19, but the dip in pollution is probably only temporary.
China’s carbon emissions were 25 per cent lower for about the month of February than the same time last year, according to Lauri Myllyvirta, lead analyst at the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air in Helsinki, who used data from coal, steel, oil and other industries.
“The important question now is how China’s government will respond. To make up for lost economic activity — including after the 2008-9 financial crisis — the Government’s usual response is to launch massive stimulus packages focused on polluting smokestack industries,” he said.
“That would make the environment worse long-term.”
NASA and the European Space Agency say their pollution monitoring satellites over China have detected big drops since January in nitrogen dioxide, typically produced by motor vehicles, power plants and factories.
Which age groups are at risk?
We’ve asked you to tell us your questions — and they’re already coming in.
One of the most commonly asked questions was about the COVID-19 risk for different age groups.
Those at greatest risk are elderly people. People over 70 are at high risk of dying from coronavirus, with the risk being even higher for people over 80.
People with other health conditions, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure or cancer, are also at higher risk of dying from the virus.
In contrast, kids seem to be at quite low risk.
For everyone in the middle, the majority of cases have relatively mild symptoms along the lines of the common cold.
Could the coronavirus cruise ship cost Tokyo the Olympics?
From North Asia correspondent Jake Sturmer and Yumi Asada in Tokyo:
The Olympic Games and public confidence are two things Japan is desperately scrambling to hold on to in the wake of serious criticism of its handling of the coronavirus outbreak in the country.
There are growing questions about the Government’s handling of the quarantine on board the Diamond Princess cruise ship, in which more than 700 passengers and crew got infected and seven people died.
And one outspoken doctor has questioned why until recently, the Japanese Government only tested hundreds of people for coronavirus each day, compared to South Korea, which is testing thousands.
Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe says the games, scheduled to start July 24, will take place despite the threat of coronavirus. (Reuters: Athit Perawongmetha)
UN postpones gender equity conference
The United Nations is drastically curtailing a conference that had been expected to bring up to 12,000 people from its 193 member nations to New York next week.
The UN Commission on the Status of Women had decided to hold a one-day event on March 9 so delegations in New York could adopt a draft political declaration commemorating the 25th anniversary of a conference in Beijing that adopted a wide-ranging plan to achieve equality for women.
But the commission has decided to postpone the major event to a future date to be determined, when delegations from all countries and non-governmental organisations can attend.
The commission stressed there would be no debate on March 9, and all side events would be cancelled. It discouraged delegations from all capitals from coming to New York for the event.
Six new countries report COVID-19
Armenia, the Czech Republic, the Dominican Republic, Luxembourg, Iceland, and Indonesia have all reported their first cases of COVID-19 in the past 24 hours, the World Health Organisation has said.
The WHO has urged all countries to make containment of the virus their top priority.
Backslaps, not handshakes
Australians have been encouraged to forgo handshaking in response to the first transmissions of COVID-19 on Australian soil,
A 53-year-old health worker and a 41-year-old woman, both in Sydney, have contracted the virus without leaving the country.
Infectious diseases expert Robert Booy from the University of Sydney said we could slow an epidemic by taking sensible measures — such as avoiding handshakes and washing hands regularly.
At the announcement of the Australian transmissions yesterday, NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard recommended a different form of greeting.
“It’s time Aussies give each other a pat on the back,” he said. “No handshaking, it’s not necessary.”
Cases outside China multiply
Almost nine times more cases were reported in the past 24 hours outside China than in it, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.
He said outbreaks in South Korea, Italy, Iran and Japan were of the greatest concern, but there was evidence surveillance methods were working in South Korea, the worst-affected country outside China, and the epidemic could be contained there.
“We are in uncharted territory — we have never seen before a respiratory pathogen that is capable of community transmission, but at the same time which can also be contained with the right measures,” he told a news briefing in Geneva.
The global death toll reached 3,048 on Tuesday morning.
Minister refuses German Chancellor’s handshake
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has been refused a handshake by her Interior Minister Horst Seehofer.
Ms Merkel laughed and held up her hands in an awkward moment between the two politicians who have been known to butt heads.
Germany is struggling with a rapidly growing outbreak of coronavirus.
DW Politics @dw_politics No more #handshakes? Angela Merkel was refused a #handshake by German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer on Monday, as German officials struggle with a rapidly growing outbreak of #coronavirus in the country. “That was the right thing to do,” said Merkel afterwards.
The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany rose to 150 on Monday (local time) from 129 on Sunday, the Robert Koch Institute for disease control said.
More than half of the cases, 86, are in the western region of North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany’s most populous state, where several schools and daycare centres are closed on Monday to try to prevent the spread of the virus after staff members tested positive.
South Korea seeks coronavirus murder charges
South Korea has sought murder charges against leaders of a secretive church at the heart of the nation’s ballooning coronavirus outbreak.
With the largest outbreak outside China, South Korea has had 26 deaths. It reported another 599 infections on Monday, taking its tally to 4,335 following Saturday’s biggest daily jump.
Of the new cases in South Korea, 377 were from the city of Daegu, home to a branch of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, to which most of South Korea’s cases have been traced.
Some members of the church visited Wuhan, where the disease emerged, in January.
The Korean Government asked prosecutors to launch a murder investigation into leaders of the church, a movement that reveres founder Lee Man-hee.
Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon said if the founder and other heads of the church had cooperated, preventive measures could have avoided deaths.
Senegal confirms first coronavirus case
Senegal’s Health Minister on Monday announced the first case of coronavirus in the country, the second case in sub-Saharan Africa after one was confirmed in Nigeria last week.
The patient is a French man who lives in Senegal and flew back from France on February 26, according to Health Minister Abdoulaye Diouf Sarr.
The patient has since been in contact with his wife and two children and is now under quarantine in a hospital in the capital Dakar.
Ask us your coronavirus questions
There is a lot to get your head around with coronavirus, from how you can avoid catching it, to whether it’s here to stay and what it all means for the economy.
If there are questions you don’t have answers to, you’re not alone — and hopefully, we can help.
If you’d like to ask us a question about coronavirus, simply fill out the form below and hit submit.
If your question is chosen for our reporters to investigate or explain, we’ll let you know.
More on the coronavirus outbreak: