Coronavirus artwork for digital story
Coronavirus artwork for digital story

Coronavirus ‘worse than a terrorist attack’

A 12th Australian is the latest passenger on board a cruise liner docked in Japan with a new potential case of coronavirus, as the World Health Organisation warned of a global threat worse than terrorism.

In an email to the Australians on board the Diamond Princess, the consular team said it was aware of a new possible case of the virus from a citizen, the ABC reports.

"We are following up for more information, and will provide any support and assistance to them that is required," the email said.

"The (infected) Australians we are currently supporting in hospital all remain stable and are recovering."

Japan's health ministry has confirmed 135 cases of the virus from more than 400 tests aboard Carnival Corp.'s Diamond Princess, which is docked in Yokohama.

Aussies in quarantine on board the Diamond Princess in Japan has been assured the coronavirus is not being spread through the ship’s airconditioning. Picture: Getty Images
Aussies in quarantine on board the Diamond Princess in Japan has been assured the coronavirus is not being spread through the ship’s airconditioning. Picture: Getty Images

The ship's 3700 passengers and crew are expected to remain under quarantine until at least February 19.

It comes as WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters in Geneva it could take 18 months before the first vaccine to fight the virus is created.

He said the delay meant "we have to do everything today using available weapons" - adding the epidemic posed a "very grave threat".

"To be honest, a virus is more powerful in creating political, economic and social upheaval than any terrorist attack," Dr Ghebreyesus said.

"A virus can have more powerful consequences than any terrorist action."

VIRUS RENAMED TO DETER STIGMA

Dr Ghebreyesus also announced that "COVID-19" will be the official name of the deadly virus.

The "co" stands for "corona", "vi" for "virus" and "d" for "disease", while "19" was for the year, as the outbreak was first identified on December 31.

Dr Ghebreyesus said the name had been chosen to avoid references to a specific geographical location, animal species or group of people in line with international recommendations for naming aimed at preventing stigmatisation.

WHO had earlier given the virus the temporary name of "2019-nCoV acute respiratory disease" and China's National Health Commission this week said it was temporarily calling it "novel coronavirus pneumonia" or NCP.

 

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO), explains the new name for the coronavirus. Picture: AP
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO), explains the new name for the coronavirus. Picture: AP

Under a set of guidelines issued in 2015, WHO advises against using place names such as ebola and zika - where those diseases were first identified and which are now inevitably linked to them in the public mind.

More general names such as "Middle East Respiratory Syndrome" or "Spanish flu" are also now avoided as they can stigmatise entire regions or ethnic groups.

WHO also notes that using animal species in the name can create confusion, such as in 2009 when H1N1 was popularly referred to as "swine flu".

This had a major impact on the pork industry even though the disease was being spread by people rather than pigs.

People's names - usually the scientists who identified the disease - are also banned, as are "terms that incite undue fear" such as "unknown" or "fatal", the WHO said.

PARENTS PLEA FOR TODDLER'S EVACUATION

Australians trapped in coronavirus-hit Wuhan have been told there are no more evacuation flights planned.

More than 500 Australians have been flown out Wuhan, with the first group taken to Christmas Island and the second group to Darwin for quarantine.

Several stranded Australians said they registered their details with the government but were never informed of departing flights and were left behind, the ABC reports.

Meanwhile an Australian couple is pleading for help to evacuate their 18-month-old daughter Chloe Luo, an Australian citizen, who is stuck in the Hubei province.

Her father Yufei Luo told The Guardian they sent their daughter to stay with her grandmother in January to get away from the bushfire smoke in Canberra.

"We thought to send her back just for a couple of weeks, just a month, until the smoke was gone," he said.

 

"We tried to give her better conditions. Then everything happened in Wuhan."

Mr Luo said the Australian government told him that they could not evacuate Chloe on any of the earlier flights.

"We talked to the government - they said they can only take permanent residents or citizens. Chloe is an Australian citizen but her grandma isn't.

"She can't get to the plane because only her grandma can take her - but her grandma is not an Australian citizen, or permanent resident."

he and his wife can't pick up Chloe because they don't have travel passes through Hubei.

"That's what is happening at the moment," he told The Guardian.

"I think she can't travel by herself. I can only trust myself to go back to pick up Chloe, or my wife."

AUSSIES FEAR VIRUS IS SPREADING VIA AIR-CON

Concerned Australians on board the Diamond Princess are being assured the coronavirus is not being spread through the luxury cruise liner's airconditioning.

More than 200 Australians still on board received a message from the Australian Embassy in Tokyo late Monday.

It states that the operator of the Diamond Princess "has advised that every cabin receives 100 per cent fresh air directly from external intakes, and does not receive air shared from other cabins."

"They advise that transmission of the virus through the ship's air system is not possible."

 

The number of infections almost doubled this week and many of the 65 new cases, four of them Australian, were being disembarked in a fleet of ambulances.

Everyone who tests positive to coronavirus is being taken off the vessel for treatment at onshore hospitals.

The Embassy note reports: "The Australians we are currently supporting in hospital are all stable and recovering."

A total of 11 Australian passengers have contracted the virus but the largest infection group by country is Japan.

People from the United States, Canada, Britain, China, Argentina, the Philippines and Ukraine make up the remaining number.

 

The Diamond Princess is subject to a two-week quarantine order from the Japanese government that started last Wednesday when people on board began falling ill.

It is docked at Yokohama, near Tokyo, but makes regular trips out to sea for water and ballast operations.

The alarm was raised after an 80-year-old man who disembarked a few days into the cruise in Hong Kong was found to have coronavirus.

Quarantined Australian Diamond Princess passengers had wine delivered by drone to their cabin. Picture: Facebook
Quarantined Australian Diamond Princess passengers had wine delivered by drone to their cabin. Picture: Facebook

 

Cairns couple Paul and Jacqui Fidrmuc on board the Diamond Princess cruise ship off Japan. The couple face more days of coronavirus quarantine on the cruise ship. Picture: AAP
Cairns couple Paul and Jacqui Fidrmuc on board the Diamond Princess cruise ship off Japan. The couple face more days of coronavirus quarantine on the cruise ship. Picture: AAP

The ship's Italian captain, Gennaro Arma, is making regular broadcasts as the lockdown heads into its second week.

He told passengers that there were likely more challenges ahead, "but we are, as always, ready to face these, remaining strong and united".

A scheduled excursion to open sea was delayed this week while all the infected passengers and crew were disembarked.

The Diamond Princess was expected to depart Yokohama at 6pm local time today (8pm AEDT) and return later on Wednesday.

New South Wales retiree Ellis Vincent, 76, who is set to celebrate his birthday in lockdown next week, said he expects there will be more infections on board "especially since the crew are being affected".

He and his 73-year-old wife Kimberly have opted out of open-air deck visits but are getting fresh air on the private balcony connected to their cabin.

"We think it's the safest thing," Mrs Vincent said.

 

UK TEAM TESTS VIRUS VACCINE ON MICE

A team of UK scientists believe they are among the first to start animal testing of a vaccine for the new coronavirus outbreak.

Researchers at Imperial College London said their ultimate goal was to have an effective and safe way of halting the SARS-like strain's spread by the end of the year.

"At the moment we have just put the vaccine that we've generated from these bacteria into mice," Imperial College London researcher Paul McKay told AFP.

"We're hoping that over the next few weeks we'll be able to determine the response that we can see in those mice, in their blood, their antibody response to the coronavirus."

Scientists from around the world are reviewing how the novel coronavirus is transmitted and possible vaccines at a WHO conference that kicked off on Tuesday.

Some 400 scientists are taking part.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of the World Health Organisation. Picture: AP
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of the World Health Organisation. Picture: AP

Participants will also discuss the source of the virus, which is thought to have originated in bats and reached humans via another animal such as snakes or pangolins.

There is no specific treatment or vaccine against the virus, which can cause respiratory failure.

Dr Ghebreyesus, who has repeatedly urged countries affected to share their data, called for global "solidarity".

"That is especially true in relation to sharing of samples and sequences. To defeat this outbreak, we need open and equitable sharing, according to the principles of fairness and equity," he said.

 

A Chinese woman holds her dog that is wearing a protective mask as well as they stand in the street. Picture: Getty Images
A Chinese woman holds her dog that is wearing a protective mask as well as they stand in the street. Picture: Getty Images

 

"We hope that one of the outcomes of this meeting will be an agreed road map for research around which researchers and donors will align," he said.

Several companies and institutes in Australia, China, France, Germany and the United States are racing to develop a vaccine - a process that normally takes years.

Meanwhile, the number of medical staff infected with coronavirus in Wuhan may be more than 1000.

The infections have caused strain on Wuhan's hospitals and "deep concern" among health care workers, the South China Morning Post reports.

A doctor from a major hospital in Wuhan, who asked to remain anonymous, told the Post medical staff were "devastated" when they saw the CAT scans of colleagues who had been infected.

The rate of infection among frontline staff indicates how easily the disease can be spread.

 

 

WHY YOU DON'T NEED TO WEAR A FACE MASK

There is no need to wear face masks to avoid novel coronavirus in Australia, according to the country's top medical officer.

Pressor Brendan Murphy assured Australians the only cases in Australia had been in people returning from Hubei or who had been in direct contact with confirmed cases.

"There is no reason for people to be wearing masks," he said

"There's no reason for people to avoid anybody of any particular background or appearance. I want to reassure the community."

He asked Australians to refrain from "abhorrent" racism towards the Chinese Australian community.

"We are very concerned about xenophobia and any sort of racial profiling which is completely abhorrent," Professor Murphy said.

"We're talking about a relatively small number of people just because of where they've been, not who they are. "

Australians have been assured there is no reason to wear facemasks. Picture: Ezra Acayan
Australians have been assured there is no reason to wear facemasks. Picture: Ezra Acayan

Health Minister Greg Hunt echoed his sentiment on Tuesday.

"There have been reports of discrimination, and I want to denounce and reject those absolutely and to say to the Australian-Chinese community, we thank you, we honour you and we respect you," he said.

"If there are shopping centres in areas that have particularly strong concentrations of people with Chinese-Australian backgrounds, there is no reason not to be there.

"That's an important message of safety, of solidarity and of respect."

The death toll has surged past 1000 and there are now more than 42,000 confirmed cases across the globe.

Fifteen people have so far been diagnosed with the virus in Australia, five of which have fully recovered.

One of the people taken to Christmas Island from Wuhan has been isolated while doctors await test results.

 

The travel ban for those travelling from mainland China is certain to be extended when the initial two-week exclusion period ends on Saturday.

The government has committed to reviewing it every two weeks but with no sign the virus is under control in China, the ban will be continued.

The extension of the ban, likely for another two-week period, will put further pressure on the embattled tourism industry and the university sector.

 

 

 

CHRISTMAS ISLAND EXILES SET TO GO HOME

 

The first Australians to be quarantined over the coronavirus crisis will leave Christmas Island early next week.

Health Minister Greg Hunt said the evacuees would face a final health check before leaving the island on Monday and Wednesday, after spending 14 days in quarantine.

"They will be able to go home subject to having a very clear process of having been checked and been declared disease-free," Mr Hunt told reporters in Canberra.

Australian evacuees board a bus after arriving at the airport on Christmas Island. Picture: AAP
Australian evacuees board a bus after arriving at the airport on Christmas Island. Picture: AAP

A total of 530 Australians have been evacuated from China following the virus outbreak, heading into quarantine on Christmas Island and a worker camp near Darwin.

One person on Christmas Island is currently being tested for suspected coronavirus but Mr Hunt said doctors had advised there is a low probability of the person being positive to the virus.

Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy said the rate of growth globally appeared to be "flattening a little bit", but it was too early to draw any conclusions.

Teams from AUSMAT and the Australian Defence Force at the Christmas Island quarantine zone. Picture: Nathan Edwards
Teams from AUSMAT and the Australian Defence Force at the Christmas Island quarantine zone. Picture: Nathan Edwards

He said there was no reason for Australians to be wearing masks as they went about their business.

"There is no reason for anybody to be avoiding anybody of any particular background or appearance," he added.

 

QUEENSLAND GOLF RESORT COULD BECOME QUARANTINE ZONE

A Queensland golf resort once favoured by media giant Kerry Packer has been earmarked as a coronavirus quarantine facility.

More than 1000 people have isolated themselves at home in Queensland, according to the state's chief health officer Jeanette Young.

Self-isolation is a precautionary measure to help contain the virus, required of people who have been in China recently or in direct contact with a confirmed coronavirus case.

Five people in Queensland have been confirmed as having the virus.

The Gold Coast hinterland's Ramada Resort Kooralbyn Valley says on social media that its Packer Lodge had been reserved by the state government for use as a temporary isolation and quarantine facility.

A Queensland Health spokesperson said the government is looking at every measure to ensure those who need to isolate themselves can do so.

Ramada Resort Kooralbyn Valley in Queensland has been earmarked as a coronavirus quarantine facility. Picture: Supplied
Ramada Resort Kooralbyn Valley in Queensland has been earmarked as a coronavirus quarantine facility. Picture: Supplied

This includes preparing places for anyone who cannot isolate themselves in their own home.

It is understood no one is currently in isolation at the 30-room lodge, which is located about 300 metres away from the main building and where the late Mr Packer stayed when he played polo and golf at the resort.

It's unknown if any other facilities in Queensland have been earmarked for similar quarantine measures.

The hotel said its decision came after it had lost business as Chinese tourists were banned from travelling to Australia due to the coronavirus.

It had also been affected by the drought and a bushfire last year.

The resort would soon be up for sale or looking for a strategic partner.

If used as an isolation facility, movement in and out of the lodge would be strictly controlled and enforceable by law, similar to the quarantine facility near Darwin.

"The risk to the local residents is zero, as long as people do not trespass or break into the quarantined area without prior approval," says the hotel.

Police or the army would provide security and Queensland Health staff would check on those in isolation every day, it said.

 

WICKHAM POINT RULED OUT 'WITHOUT INSPECTION'

It has 1500 rooms, three medical centres, recreation facilities, a commercial kitchen - and it's more than 20km from the nearest school.

But the owner of Darwin's Wickham Point Detention Centre says the facility was ruled out as a possible site for quarantining coronavirus evacuees without anybody bothering to inspect it.

Wickham Point Developments director John "Foxy" Robinson is now demanding a senior health official withdraw comments that the facility is "uninhabitable".

One of the accommodation blocks at the Wickham Point facility. 
All photos in this article were taken today. Picture: Che Chorley
One of the accommodation blocks at the Wickham Point facility. All photos in this article were taken today. Picture: Che Chorley

NT acting chief health officer Di Stephens made the comments while addressing parents from the Good Shepard Lutheran College.

The school is right next to the former Inpex workers' village in Howard Springs where 266 people who returned from China have been quarantined, and many parents are furious at the decision to house the evacuees at the site.

At a meeting on Monday, the parents asked why the isolated Wickham Point facility wasn't being used when one suggested it was the "perfect spot".

Professor Stephens replied: "Yeah but the accommodation facility is not habitable and not suitable for quarantine purposes. Don't worry, we've looked at it."

The interior cafe and mess hall at the Wickham Point facility. 
Picture: Che Chorley
The interior cafe and mess hall at the Wickham Point facility. Picture: Che Chorley

When asked who had made the decision and if it was because Wickham Point was privately owned, Professor Stephens said: "It's got nothing to do with being privately owned. We were looking at facilities that were suitable and humane for people to stay in for two weeks and that facility was not felt to be …"

But last night Professor Stephens conceded: "The decision to use the Howard Springs Facility was a federal one and based on it being the most suitable facility that could be stood up in the short time frame.

"I regret my choice of words in explaining that."

The gym at the Wickham Point facility. 
Picture: Che Chorley
The gym at the Wickham Point facility. Picture: Che Chorley

 

Mr Robinson said Professor Stephens' comments were "misleading in the extreme."

He said the facility had last been used in November and was ready and equipped to receive evacuees.

"The accommodation village is made up of 1500 rooms over three separate facilities of which each can operate independently," he said.

"The property also has three separate medical facilities including a medical separation area, recreation facilities, extensive administration facilities, commercial kitchen and dining."

One of the rooms at the Wickham Point facility. 
Picture: Che Chorley
One of the rooms at the Wickham Point facility. Picture: Che Chorley

The nearest homes and school are at the suburb of Rosebery, more than 20km away.

Wickham Point Developments has been locked in a lengthy legal battle with the Commonwealth. The company is suing for damages saying the Federal Government prematurely ended an agreement to house asylum seekers at Wickham Point after the last detainees were removed in 2016.

It was later revealed Australian Border Force left dozens of confidential documents including personal medical records and incident reports strewn across the centre's offices for months after vacating the premises.

One of three taverns at the Wickham Point facility. 
Picture: Che Chorley
One of three taverns at the Wickham Point facility. Picture: Che Chorley

Mr Robinson said he was not concerned the Wickham Point facility had been rejected as a quarantine site but said Professor Stephens should retract her commends "to avoid any unwarranted reputational harm to the property".

"Again, we reiterate it is habitable, available for occupation and in very good condition."

The NT Health Department and Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt have been contacted for comment.



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