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Alarm as coronavirus cases reach tipping point


Matt Woodley


27/02/2020 4:33:03 PM

As the number of cases reported outside of China continues to accelerate, Scott Morrison has said ‘the risk of a global pandemic is very much upon us’.

Empty square in Milan
The number of cases in Italy has jumped to 400, amid international efforts to contain the spread. (AAP)

The most recent World Health Organization (WHO) situation report confirmed for the first time that the number of new cases reported outside China has passed those confirmed in the country where the outbreak began.
 
Of the 871 new cases of COVID-19 (coronavirus), 465 occurred in 39 countries and regions outside mainland China.
 
Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reports the rate of transmission outside China is ‘fundamentally changing’.
 
‘While the WHO is yet to declare [a pandemic] ... we believe the risk of a global pandemic is very much upon us,’ he said.
 
‘As a result, as a government, we need to take the steps necessary to prepare for such a pandemic.’
 
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said the announcement had set off a ‘full preparation phase’ to ensure adequate supply chains of essentials such as medical supplies and personnel.
 
‘One of the things we’re most focused on is to make sure we have the personnel capacity if there is a surge within our hospitals and medical system in the event of a pandemic,’ he said.
 
South Korea has been the hardest hit country outside China and it again recorded the most number of new cases (284), while Italy (94), Iran (34) and Bahrain (18) also recorded sharp increases.
 
Nearly half of the 1261 people infected in South Korea at the time of the report were thought to have been exposed via domestic human-to-human transmission, while more than one third of those in Italy have acquired the disease via the same route.
 
Reports hours later indicated the coronavirus had spread to at least 45 countries, including Brazil, meaning it has now reached every continent other than Antarctica. Other countries in which the disease has been confirmed include North Macedonia, Pakistan, Finland, Kuwait, Lebanon, Sweden and Georgia.
 
Germany has also indicated it is at the beginning of a coronavirus epidemic, after Health Minister Jens Spahn said new cases had arisen that could not be traced to the virus’ original source in China.
 
Meanwhile, the US Center for Disease Control (CDC) revealed it is investigating the first possible local infection of a person who did not have a relevant travel history, or exposure to a known coronavirus case. If confirmed, it would mark the first instance of ‘community spread’ in the country.
 
An Australian Department of Health spokesperson told newsGP general practice would be ‘essential’ to limiting the spread of coronavirus in the event of sustained community transmission, as well as triaging and treating individuals, and reassuring the community.
 
‘In order for GPs to fulfil this role, we will be working with the GP Roundtable to identify key issues and barriers to providing this kind of support to the community,’ the spokesperson said.
 
‘GPs also play a significant role in our understanding of public awareness and attitudes on communicable disease. The Department will seek feedback from the Roundtable on messaging to inform the public on prevention, symptoms and treatment of COVID-19.’
 
The spokesperson told newsGP a clinical stakeholder meeting led by Chief Medical Officer Professor Brendan Murphy recently took place to update members on coronavirus communication and ‘preparedness activities’ being undertaken by the National Incident Room (NIR).
 
There have also been warnings regarding the potential for Australia’s upcoming flu season to exacerbate the spread and effect of coronavirus.
 
‘We could see a convergence in the next eight to 10 weeks of a flu season and the coronavirus, and that may be an issue that the consequences of are still being determined,’ NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard told a press briefing in Sydney.
 
‘We need to be extremely aware of the increasing likelihood of a problem arising such as we would possibly declare a pandemic.’
 
NSW Chief Health Officer Dr Kerry Chant all but ruled out placing patients in public spaces such as stadiums for quarantine should Australia experience an outbreak, but did say the State Government had started planning for a surge in people with respiratory conditions at hospital emergency departments.
 
At the time of publication on Thursday 27 February there had been more than 82,000 cases worldwide, of which around 46,000 were still active with almost 8500 in a ‘serious or critical’ condition. There have been at least 2800 deaths, while nearly 33,000 people are said to have recovered.
 
The RACGP has more information on coronavirus available on its website.
 
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Dr Dileep Singh   28/02/2020 8:51:54 AM

To stop new cases coming into Australia why can’t we close borders completely . If it spreads then consequences are much bigger than sealing borders