Asia-Pacific

China coronavirus: Why the world is closely watching spread of deadly SARS-like virus

Medical staff transfer patients to Jinyintan hospital where patients infected with a new strain of coronavirus are treated in Wuhan, Hubei province, China. Source: EPA

The risk posed to Australians by a new strain of coronavirus is low but health authorities say there is a need to be vigilant.

A new strain of the coronavirus, a SARS-like disease, has spread around China and three other Asian countries.

Australia's chief medical officer says the risk posed to Australians is low, but with more than 220 cases of the new strain overseas, measures are being taken to reduce the risk.

Wuhan, the sprawling capital of central China's Hubei province, is the epicentre of the outbreak.

There are three direct flights a week into from Wuhan into Australia and each of these flights will now be met by biosecurity staff at Sydney's Kingsford Smith airport.

Authorities hope a stronger presence, coupled with a comprehensive plan to inform travellers of the symptoms associated with the virus, will help limit its scope and risk to Australians.

A Brisbane man is being tested for the deadly new strain of coronavirus after returning from a trip to China. 

Queensland's chief health officer Jeanette Young told reporters the man is being isolated at his home.

Origins and spread

The World Health Organisation began responding to cases of unexplained pneumonia in Wuhan, central China, on 31 December 2019.

The virus is believed to be animal in origin having jumped from animals to humans, with Chinese authorities having linked initial cases to a fish market in Wuhan.

Cases have been confirmed in other parts of China as well as Thailand, South Korea and Japan. The majority of people said they had travelled from Wuhan.

Medical staff in protective outfits take precautions with patients at Kwong Wah Hospital in Yau Ma Tei.
Medical staff in protective outfits take precautions with patients at Kwong Wah Hospital in Yau Ma Tei.
AAP

There have now been more than 220 confirmed cases with four confirmed deaths, but mild cases could be going undetected.

'Novel coronavirus' is a term given to new strains of coronavirus, which is from the same family as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).

The World Health Organisation says the virus is capable of limited human-to-human transfer, with Chinese health workers confirmed to have caught the bug.

How does the virus show up?

High fever is the most common symptom of the virus, but other symptoms include a cough, breathlessness and sore throat.

In severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death, the WHO says.

A health worker monitors a thermal scanner as passengers arrive at Japan's Narita airport.
A health worker monitors a thermal scanner as passengers arrive at Japan's Narita airport.
Getty Images AsiaPac

The virus has an incubation period of one week, meaning people that have been infected may not show symptoms in that period.

All the confirmed cases have been in adults and no cases in children have been reported.

In severe or fatal cases, the people were already sick or had other medical conditions.

What now?

The WHO said Monday that a key emergency committee would meet this week to discuss the health issue.

Travellers in Beijing wear face masks to protect themselves from the threat of coronavirus.
Travellers in Beijing wear face masks to protect themselves from the threat of coronavirus.
Yomiuri Shimbun

The WHO panel will meet in Geneva on Wednesday to determine whether to declare the outbreak an international public health emergency - a rare move only used for the gravest epidemics.

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