Spike in global coronavirus case numbers

Matt Woodley

24/02/2020 4:28:53 PM

Outbreaks in Asia, Europe and the Middle East prompt pandemic warnings, but an RACGP emergency medicine expert says they are premature.

Global coronavirus coverage
Coronavirus has spread to 32 countries and regions, with those coloured darker red most affected.

In less than one week, South Korea progressed from 31 confirmed cases of coronavirus to 763, including seven deaths. Japan now has 147 confirmed cases, with children as young as 10 infected, while more than 600 passengers on the ill-fated Diamond Princess have tested positive – including 47 Australians currently in Japan.
The number of cases in Australia also increased to 22 over the weekend, as seven Diamond Princess evacuees tested positive after arriving in Darwin.
Meanwhile, the first major European outbreak in Italy saw cases increase by 156 over a three-day period, causing at least three deaths and leading to panic in some areas.
Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said he was surprised by the ‘explosion of cases’, but urged people ‘not to give in to panic’ as health authorities moved to lock down some 50,000 people in affected the northern parts of the country.
However, the highest number of deaths outside mainland China have occurred in Iran, which only detected the virus on 19 February. In the ensuing days, health authorities have confirmed eight deaths and 43 infections, leading Turkey, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Armenia to close their land borders with Iran.
Researchers from University College London estimate up to two-thirds of coronavirus (COVID-19) cases exported from mainland China remain undetected worldwide, and the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) has upgraded its official travel advice for Japan and South Korea over concerns about the spread of coronavirus.
In Australia, Victorian Chief Health Officer and public health physician Dr Brett Sutton tweeted over the weekend that a pandemic is ‘very likely, if not inevitable’, while University of Queensland Virologist Dr Ian Mackay has also promoted the high likelihood of a global outbreak and the need to be prepared.
Dr Glynn Kelly, Chair of the RACGP Specific Interests Emergency Medicine network, told newsGP there is not yet enough evidence for coronavirus to be declared a pandemic, but said that could change.
‘The definition of a pandemic is that there are large clusters and sustained transmission. We do have large clusters, but there is not large-scale transmission as yet within those clusters,’ he said.
‘Some are heading that way, such as South Korea, and it could occur tomorrow or in a few days, [but] likewise it could also not happen at all.’
But Dr Kelly said GPs should be familiarising themselves with pandemic plans regardless of a declaration, while public health authorities need to interact more with general practice.
‘GPs should really be getting their pandemic plan off the shelves, reading through it and preparing their surgery or surgeries,’ he said.
‘GPs need to consider what they can do and what they will do. They can be two different things.’
Preparations for Australia’s first purpose-built biocontainment unit are already underway at Westmead Hospital in Sydney, with The Australian reporting it will have capacity to completely isolate patients in the new wing, which will have high-level disinfection capacity and its own intensive care services.
Researchers from the University of Queensland (UQ) have also claimed a breakthrough in their pursuit of a coronavirus vaccine, confirming the creation of a vaccine candidate that will move immediately into further development before formal pre-clinical testing.
With the number of global cases rapidly approaching 80,000, UQ is one of three universities worldwide racing to develop a vaccine as part of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) rapid response program.
The RACGP has more information on coronavirus available on its website.
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Dr Dileep Singh   25/02/2020 9:29:31 AM

As we know only way it can enter Australia is from people coming in from any country now especially from high risk countries As far as i know there is no strict screening at airports So when we know that if even one person with infection enters Australia anywhere it can cause spread of infection which will be more dangerous than any economic benefit it can give .So why don’t we close borders completely and if any body wants to enter they go through quarantine for 24 days Also as there are doubts about incubation period so people who are released from christmas island and Darwin should go thorough self isolation ( doesn’t work)for another 10 days and follow up

Dr George Al-Horani   25/02/2020 10:04:40 AM

It is Pandemic , we will be the easiest country in the World to control further spread and avoid new cases , the source will be through the airport or the Boats , both can be controlled, we can’t depend on Airport employees - who already doing a great job - to decide who has the virus or not !!!!
Just stop the flights from highly infected areas for now until further notice .
The same for the cruise ships .
We just need to wake up and agree it is pandemic and we are at high risk as long as flights from high risk areas keep coming in .

A.Prof Christopher David Hogan   25/02/2020 1:51:32 PM

Screening at airports is useful only to detect people who are infected & have symptoms. However, like influenza there are a percentage of people who are infected & shedding virus but do not have a fever. Also , many people can shed virus before they become clinically unwell

Dr Dannielle Maria Kolos   25/02/2020 5:05:51 PM

Then there are the infected airconditioning units in planes, ships, large buildings, shopping centres, trains, buses restaurants, entertainment venues, is there a way to sterilise these?

Dr Mark Robert Miller   26/02/2020 12:19:22 AM

One would expect that the progression for covid 19 to classification of pandemic is merely a variable of time. Perhaps into the future further investigation as to the possibility of what other classes of coronaviruses/etc exist in similar environments to where covid 19 may have originated to allow prediction /modification of future outbreaks, especially where infection/exposure is potentially an unavoidable occupational risk. Comparing rapid travel opportunity today with Soho London 1854 means that such outbreaks will challenge the global community increasingly now & into the future.