NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard says Australians should call time on handshaking and be careful with who they choose to kiss to prevent the further spread of coronavirus.
Mr Hazzard said ceasing handshaking especially was a “sensible step” and could easily be replaced with an old-fashioned pat on the back.
“It’s a very Australian thing to do to put your hand out and shake hands … I would be suggesting to the community in NSW and more broadly afoot that it’s time Aussies actually gave each other a pat on the back for the time being, no handshaking,” he said.
“It’s not necessary, particularly at a time when we have a virus that appears to be reasonably active in its endeavours to get into our community.”
“There are other things that could be done – I’m not going to say don’t kiss but you could be exercising a degree of care and caution with whom you choose to kiss and I would strongly suggest that is something which just commonsense should prevail.”
The warning comes as health authorities say it is “highly likely” there have been two person-to-person transmissions of coronavirus in Australia.
Never before has an individual contracted the highly infectious virus in Australia, with all of the previous 28 cases stemming from people who travelled abroad to countries such as China and Iran.
Mr Hazzard said that following further test results that came in about 3pm there are now nine cases of coronavirus in NSW – up from six this morning.
“Two of the three confirmed this afternoon have high likelihood of transmission in NSW,” he said.
These two cases are a 53-year-old health worker – who authorities originally thought did not have the virus – and a 41-year-old woman.
The woman is believed to have contracted the virus from her 43-year-old Iranian brother, who flew into Sydney on Saturday.
It comes after The Daily Telegraph revealed a Sydney medical officer in his 50s being tested for coronavirus in intensive care could be the first person-to-person transmission in Australia.
After preliminary laboratory results indicated the man could have the COVID-19, NSW Health released a statement saying he was “unlikely to have the virus although, as a precaution, further testing is being conducted”.
Tasmania reported its first case of coronavirus after a man travelling from Iran to Launceston, via Melbourne, tested positive for the deadly virus.
The 40-year-old man reported a mild cough before he presented at Launceston General Hospital on Saturday.
Tasmania’s Health Minister said the man “self-isolated” before he underwent testing and that the public is at “low risk”.
People could be banned from shopping centres, schools and workplaces in areas with localised coronavirus outbreaks in Australia in a bid to contain the spread.
Attorney-General Christian Porter said laws allowing the government to declare “human health response zones” could be used on a large scale to keep the disease from spreading.
“That is a power that can be used for either localised disease outbreaks in Australia, or indeed could be used to restrict individuals from attending places where larger number of people may otherwise choose to gather, such as shopping centres, schools or work,” he said.
This power has been used on a smaller scale already during the outbreak, including when the government forced all of the passengers on the Diamond Princess cruise ship to stay in quarantine in Howard Springs in the Northern Territory for two weeks.
Mr Porter said human biosecurity orders could also be enacted to help officials track the spread of coronavirus.
“There is the ability of the government to impose always based on medical advice but nevertheless impose a human biosecurity control order on a person or persons who have been exposed to the disease,” he said.
“It could require any Australian to give information about people that they have contacted or had contact with so that we can trace transmission pathways. It will also mean that Australians could be directed to remain at a particular place or indeed undergo contamination.”
The laws are part of the 2015 Biosecurity Act and were triggered when coronavirus was declared a “human disease” on January 21.
GRIM WARNING FOR AUSSIES
Stopping coronavirus from spreading further in Australia is “no longer possible”, the country’s chief medical officer has warned.
Professor Brendan Murphy said the increase in cases outside of China meant it was inevitable that more people would get the virus in Australia.
“The view at the moment was that travel bans are, at this stage … a way of delaying the burden of new cases coming in,” he said.
“It is no longer possible to absolutely prevent new cases given the increasing changes in epidemiology.”
Prof Murphy said the spread of the virus in the past week had been “as expected” by Australian experts.
“We are in a position where we’re going to expect to see more cases in Australia,” he said.
“We are prepared, and we are preparing for … greater numbers.
“We have got lots of preparation underway across the health sector and we are in a very good situation.
“But this is pretty much what we expected.”
Prof Murphy said a travel ban had been placed on Iran, but not South Korea and Italy – where there have also been significant outbreaks – because the proportional risk was not as high.
“In the case of Iran (there was) … such a high risk that a travel ban is worth doing,” he said.
“You cannot stop Australian citizens coming back and some of the cases that came back from Iran with the disease are Australian citizens.
“The medical advice was that the situation in Italy and South Korea, where they have large outbreaks, but are confined and localised, the risk and proportionality of putting in a travel ban was not (there) … in terms of its benefits of health protection.”
Health Minister Greg Hunt announced Australia had upgraded its travel advice to all of Italy to Level 2 – “exercise high degree of caution,” and to Level 3 – “reconsider need to travel” for northern areas with outbreaks.
Mr Hunt also announced all residential aged care or health workers returning from Italy or South Korea should not attend work for 14 days.
“This is an additional level of protection which has been advised by the chief health and medical officers and accepted by the Australian government,” he said.
Mr Hunt said he had met with the Therapeutic Goods Administration this morning and the nation’s medicinal stockpiles were “stronger” than he had anticipated.
Australia has more than 20 million medical masks stockpiled for an outbreak.
State Health Minister Steven Miles last week revealed that would not be sufficient in the event of a moderate or severe outbreak in Australia.
But work is being undertaken to secure more supplies, including a Victorian factory being investigated to ramp up production.
Much of the world’s medical mask supply was generated from Wuhan, which was the epicentre of the viral outbreak.
VIRUS CLAIMS THE LIFE OF AUSTRALIAN
The first Australian to die of the coronavirus has been identified as James Kwan, a retired travel agent from Perth.
The 78-year-old man died in the early hours of Sunday morning at Perth’s Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital.
It comes as the number of countries hit by the coronavirus climbed to 67 (as at Monday 1pm AEDT), and Australia’s travel advice to Italy was heightened.
Mr Kwan was on board the Diamond Princess cruise ship with his wife, who also contracted the virus while stranded on the boat docked off Yokohama in Japan.
She is in a stable condition at the hospital where her husband died.
“My husband passed away peacefully knowing that his family loved him,” Mrs Kwan said in a statement.
WA Premier Mark McGowan said Mr Kwan was alone in his final moments because he was quarantined.
“It would have been awful, they couldn’t go in and touch him or hold his hand, it would have been so tragically sad,” Mr McGown said about Mr Kwan’s family.
“You don’t want to leave this world without someone holding your hand.”
Western Australia’s chief health officer Andrew Robertson said Mr Kwan’s wife was also in quarantine.
Dr Robertson said she had a chance to talk to her husband before he died.
His family spoke to him by phone or through glass on Saturday night.
“She had the opportunity to talk to him prior to his death, but she’s understandably quite upset. And I obviously ask that people respect their privacy,” Dr Robertson said.
“He was identified very early on, when he was on the flight back from the Diamond Princess, he was put in isolation, he was transferred to us, and obviously placed in isolation on arrival.
“He’s been managed in isolation ever since. There’s no risk to the general community or to staff.
“He was in a negative pressure room and then in intensive care and they were very confident that the protection equipment they were using was more than adequate.”
Mr Kwan was reportedly an avid golfer and a longtime member of The Vines golf club in Perth’s Swan Valley.
On Sunday night the club paid tribute to Mr Kwan on its Facebook page.
“Vale James Kwan. Sadly overnight James passed away. He was diagnosed with the coronavirus,” the tribute said.
“James will be dearly missed around the club. Our thoughts and prayers remain with Theresa who is currently in hospital with the virus.
“Thankyou James for your generosity over many years especially with the Asian Connection Days. Fond memories. Keep swinging.”
Mr Kwan and his wife were two of 164 Australians flown out of Japan and placed in isolation at Darwin’s Howard Springs Quarantine Facility after being quarantined aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship. They were flown back to Perth on February 21.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison expressed condolences to Mr Kwan’s family.
“Am very saddened at the death of an elderly Australian man from Perth, who contracted Covid-19 and we evacuated from the Diamond Princess in Japan,” Mr Morrison tweeted.
“We join his family and friends in mourning his passing. Covid-19 is especially more severe for older people with other frailties.”
Coronavirus has infected more than 88,000 people globally, causing nearly 3000 deaths (as at Monday, 1pm AEDT).
AUSTRALIAN CORONAVIRUS CASES INCREASE
Australia’s number of confirmed coronavirus cases reached 29 on Sunday as three people – a man and woman from Victoria as well as a man from NSW – tested positive for the virus.
A Victorian woman, in her 30s, who recently returned from Iran, tested positive for the virus
The woman was a passenger on flight Malindo Air OD177 from Kuala Lumpur to Denpasar and then Melbourne, which arrived at 6.04am on Friday.
She was admitted to hospital on Saturday, has been declared clinically well enough to be discharged and is now isolated at home, and is the state’s ninth confirmed coronavirus case.
The 29th case was confirmed in Sydney, which is the state’s sixth, on Sunday.
The patient is a woman, aged in her 50s, who had been in Iran and flew back to Sydney via Qatar, arriving on Sunday, February 23 on Qatar Airways Flight QR 908.
She developed symptoms the following day and was tested for Covid-19 on February 29 after presenting to a hospital emergency department.
NSW Health is urging anyone on the flight, which was scheduled to arrive at 6.45pm, to be on the alert for symptoms of Covid-19 including fever, sore throat, cough and shortness of breath.
“Because the woman’s symptoms began within 24 hours of arriving in Sydney, people who were sitting close to her on her flight will be followed up and asked to self-isolate,” it said in a statement.
This latest case is not linked to, and was not on the same flight, as the fifth confirmed case who has also returned from Iran but on a different day.
NSW Health said a man in his 50s, believed to be a Sydney medical officer, undergoing testing for Covid-19 was “unlikely to have the virus”.
However further testing is being conducted as a precaution.
Health Minister Greg Hunt said with the international spread of this virus, “it is almost inevitable” we would see more cases of Covid-19 in Australia in coming weeks.
VIRUS SPREADS TO OVER 60 COUNTRIES
The number of countries hit by the coronavirus climbed past 60 on Sunday (local time), and infections and deaths continued to mount across the globe, emptying streets of tourists and workers, shaking economies and rewriting the realities of daily life.
In Paris, the Louvre Museum closed following a government decision on Saturday to ban indoor public gatherings of more than 5000 people, and priests stopped placing sacramental bread in worshippers’ mouths.
Panic buying of daily necessities emerged in Japan. Tourist sites across Asia, Europe and the Mideast were deserted. And governments closed schools and banned big gatherings.
New coronavirus infections grew dramatically across Europe on Sunday (local time), with Italy reporting more than 1100 confirmed cases, mostly in northern regions, and at least 29 deaths.
The number of confirmed cases also jumped in France, Germany and the UK, and the Czech Republic reported its first case.
Italy said confirmed infections had risen 40 per cent in 24 hours to 1576, with the death toll now at 34.
In Germany the number of people infected had almost doubled to 129 on Sunday, while France’s total stood at 100 – up from 38 on Friday.
British health authorities said the number of people confirmed as infected rose by 12, bringing the country’s tally to 35, with one death.
Most of the new cases involved people who had been in Italy or Iran, both countries hit hard by the outbreak.
Iran meanwhile raised its death toll from 43 to 54 as its number of confirmed infections rose by more than half to 978, amid continuing concerns official figures still do not reflect the full scale of the outbreak there.
As Australia and Thailand reported their first deaths, the Dominican Republic and the Czech Republic recorded their first cases.
The United States on Saturday recorded its first death, a man in his 50s in Washington state who had underlying health problems but who had not travelled to any affected areas.
The death prompted Washington state to declare a state of emergency.
“Additional cases in the United States are likely but healthy individuals should be able to fully recover,” US President Donald Trump said at a Saturday briefing, where officials announced heightened warnings about travel to certain regions of Italy and South Korea as well as a ban on travel to Iran.
CHINA CASES ON THE UP AGAIN
China, where the outbreak began two months ago, on Sunday reported a slight uptick in new cases in the past 24 hours to 573.
This was the first time in five days the number exceeded 500.
They remain almost entirely confined to the hardest-hit province of Hubei and its capital, Wuhan.
South Korea reported 210 additional cases and two more deaths from the virus, raising its totals to 3736 cases and 20 fatalities.
South Korea has the second- largest number of infections outside China, with most of the cases in the southeastern city of Daegu and nearby areas.
Iran’s death toll from Covid-19 climbed to 54 as the number of confirmed cases jumped by more than half, to 978 people.
The new figures represent 11 more deaths than reported on Saturday and 385 new cases.
Iraq’s Health Ministry announced the discovery of six more cases Sunday, raising the total to 19 – all Iran-linked.
The outbreak in Iran has prompted its neighbours to seal their borders to Iranians, while other Gulf states have halted flights to Iran.
Many cases of the virus have been relatively mild, and some of those infected apparently show no symptoms at all, which can allow for easier spread.
Worries are mounting prolonged quarantines, supply chain disruptions and a sharp reduction in tourism and business travel could weaken the global economy and even cause a recession.
This has sent stocks plummeting, with Wall Street suffering its worst week since the 2008 financial crisis.
Islam’s holiest sites have been closed to foreign pilgrims, while professional baseball teams have played in deserted stadiums in Japan.
POPE ‘STILL HAS’ HEALTH CONCERNS
It comes as a coughing Pope Francis said on Sunday “unfortunately a cold” will prevent him from participating in a week-long spiritual retreat.
According to the New York Post, the 83-year-old pontiff paused twice to cough while addressing thousands for his weekly blessing from St. Peter’s Square, where he announced he would not be attending the Lenten spiritual retreat in the Roman countryside.
He asked for prayers for the spiritual retreat, adding “unfortunately a cold prevents me from participating this year. I will be following the meditation from here.”
His Sunday appearance marked the first time he had been seen in public since Ash Wednesday in Rome, where he was spotted battling a cold.
The Vatican had not previously specified what was ailing Francis comes as the coronavirus sweeps Italy.
“There is no evidence that would lead to diagnosing anything but a mild indisposition,” spokesman Matteo Bruni said on Friday.
QUEENSLAND BEAUTICIAN GETS CORONAVIRUS
Customers of a Gold Coast hair and beauty salon are being urged to come forward after a worker became the ninth Queenslander to contract coronavirus.
The beautician saw up to 40 people on Thursday before she started to develop symptoms and went home.
The 63-year-old returned to Australia from Iran last Monday.
She is now in isolation at Gold Coast University Hospital.
Queensland’s chief medical officer Dr Jeannette Young said the woman had done everything perfectly.
“She’s a highly intelligent, very sensible lady, so as soon as she had her first symptom she spoke to her manager and she went home,” she said.
“Then she went to Gold Coast University Hospital and got tested.”
Dr Young urged anyone who attended the Hair Plus salon at Australia Fair at Southport recently to come forward.
“She saw a number of clients each for brief interactions, so we believe the risk is incredibly low,” she said.
Dr Young said there was no need for anyone who was at the shopping centre at the same time, to be concerned.