The World Health Organisation has declared the coronavirus outbreak a global emergency with the spread of the virus outside China that is causing concern.
The new coronavirus has now infected 9692 people in 19 countries. It’s killed 213.
There haven’t been any deaths outside of China but there have been three cases of people passing on the infection to others, one of these has a severe infection.
In Australia, nine people have been confirmed to have the virus.
The declaration of a global emergency means the WHO director-general is able to make recommendations on controlling the global spread of the virus, such as screening at international airports.
While there are still many unknowns, more information has emerged about how the coronavirus is being spread.
This is what the scientists have found.
HOW THE VIRUS IS SPREAD
Australian Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Professor Paul Kelly told reporters on Thursday that the coronavirus was being spread by “droplets” and it was not an airborne disease like measles.
The droplets settle about one metre away, unlike airborne viruses that are more worrying because they can travel further distances.
They are spread when people cough or sneeze but they rapidly die once they hit a surface.
He said people would be unlikely to contract the virus via casual contact.
“We are talking about close contact over a period of time,” he said.
Someone would have to be in a face-to-face conversation with someone who has coronavirus for at least 15 minutes to be at risk of infection.
It can also be spread via contaminated surfaces if someone touches their nose or mouth after touching a surface that has been coughed or sneezed on by an infected person.
Prof Kelly said some Australians were worried about contracting the virus from parcels being sent from China, or walking past someone who was sick.
But he said you could not get the disease from parcels and passing someone was “virtually totally safe”.
Prof Kelly said people with droplet infections generally only infected one or two extra people, unlike airborne diseases like measles that can spread to 10 people.
“It’s definitely not as transmissible or as dangerous as measles for example,” he said.
VIRUS CAN BE SPREAD BEFORE SYMPTOMS
There was scepticism from Australian authorities earlier this week about whether the coronavirus could be spread before symptoms appeared but the evidence now suggests it can be.
“We are now sure that there is a possibility that people can transmit this virus before they become symptomatic,” Prof Kelly said.
“This is quite a change in what we understand about the virus and it has led to some different ways that we are dealing with the public health issues but I do want to reassure the Australian public, this is a very precautionary measure.”
WHEN SHOULD YOU USE A MASK?
Although many people are wearing masks to protect themselves from coronavirus, experts stress these should only be used by people who are already sick or by health professionals when doing things like taking swabs from sick patients.
“We don’t recommend the masks for general use,” Professor Ramon Shaban of the University of Sydney and Western Sydney Local Health District told news.com.au.
Although health professionals are using them as a precaution, it’s actually more important to practice good hand hygiene because coronavirus is not an airborne virus and is spread through droplets.
Prof Shaban said if you don’t clean your hands properly and then rub your eye, mouth or nose, this can actually pass on the infection, even if you have a mask on.
“Masks are not the great answer people think they are,” he said.
However, people who are sick should wear a mask when they go to the doctor to limit the droplets being released into the air when they sneeze or cough.
Prof Shaban said the best thing to do to avoid infection is to wash your hands regularly, use an alcohol based rub afterwards and avoid large crowds where individuals may be unwell.
“These are common responses to outbreaks of this nature.”
PRECAUTIONS BEING TAKEN
Prime Minister Scott Morrison says anyone who has travelled to Hubei province, or who has had contact with a confirmed case, are being advised to self-isolate for 14 days in their homes. This means they should not have any visitors.
The states have also released advice for students.
In NSW, where the majority of cases have been, any students who have visited China in the last two weeks have been asked not attend school or childcare services until 14 days have passed from their date of departure from China.
Any student who is sick, or has been in close contact with a confirmed case of coronavirus in the past fortnight, must self-isolate for 14 days and seek medical attention if appropriate.
Australians are also being advised to reconsider any travel to China.
The Smart Traveller website says “due to the outbreak of novel coronavirus we now advise you ‘reconsider your need to travel’ to China overall and ‘do not travel’ to Hubei Province”.
SYMPTOMS OF CORONAVIRUS
Symptoms can include fever, cough, sore throat or shortness of breath. These can take up to 14 days to develop.
Anyone who has been to Hubei or in contact with a person with confirmed coronavirus, should immediately isolate themselves from other people.
They can contact their GP or local emergency department or call the healthdirect helpline 1800 022 222.
They must also phone ahead to tell their doctors before they attend a clinic that they suspect they may have coronavirus.
ADVICE FROM HEALTH AUTHORITIES
• Frequently clean hands by using alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water;
• When coughing and sneezing cover mouth and nose with flexed elbow or tissue – throw tissue away immediately and wash hands;
• Avoid close contact with anyone who has fever and cough;
• If you have fever, cough and difficulty breathing seek medical care early and share previous travel history with your health care provider;
• When visiting live markets in areas currently experiencing cases of novel coronavirus, avoid direct unprotected contact with live animals and surfaces in contact with animals;
• The consumption of raw or undercooked animal products should be avoided.
• Raw meat, milk or animal organs should be handled with care, to avoid cross-contamination with uncooked foods, as per good food safety practices.