Aussies told stop kissing as virus death toll tops 3000
Australians have been urged to stop greeting each other by shaking hands and to be careful who they kiss now that coronavirus is spreading directly between people in the community.
The shock diagnosis of a 53-year-old male health worker with Covid-19 prompted new alarm about the spread of the illness, which health officials say will now inevitably disperse within Australia.
As the health worker is treated in intensive care, officials are tracing his contacts at work and at home in an attempt to determine where he contracted the illness.
Confirmed cases in NSW jumped from six to nine on Monday with a 43-year-old man who travelled from Iran diagnosed, along with his 41-year-old sister who is believed to have contracted the illness here.
Dozens more are being tested and awaiting results.
People should greet each other with a pat on the back instead of a handshake and limit personal contact to slow the spread of Covid-19, NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard advised on Monday.
"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.
"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."
The number of confirmed cases in Australia is now at 33, while worldwide it has climbed to more than 89,000.
The global death toll has exceeded 3000, which includes 78-year-old Perth man James Kwan.
Australia's Chief Medical Officer Professor Brendan Murphy said the increase in cases outside of China meant the spread in Australia was inevitable and "expected".
"It is no longer possible to absolutely prevent new cases," he said.
"We are preparing for … greater numbers."
Prof Murphy said anyone coming from an "area of risk" overseas must monitor their own health and self-isolate if they develop any flu-like symptoms before contacting their doctor or hospital.
"That is the time when people are most infectious is when they are symptomatic," he said.
NSW Chief Health Officer Dr Kerry Chant said the case of a health worker contracting the virus "clearly raises the question" of whether other possible cases have been missed.
"We've been pretty open with you that there is always a possibility that there is a case out there that we have not detected or cases," Dr Chant.
"But I'm reassured there isn't widespread transmission because we're doing lots of testing - we've tested over 3500 people and we continue to see high rates of testing."
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt announced Australia had upgraded its travel advice to all of Italy to Level 2 which calls on travellers to "exercise a high degree of caution," and to Level 3 to reconsider all travel for northern areas with significant outbreaks.
A Level 2 warning is also in place for South Korea, where more than 4000 cases have been recorded.
Mr Hunt said all residential aged care or health workers returning from Italy or South Korea should not attend work for 14 days.
He said while travel restrictions had been placed on Iran it was no longer practical to ban travel from all countries where the illness is.
The federal government is also prepared to ban people from shopping centres, schools and workplaces in areas with localised coronavirus outbreaks using wide-ranging powers under the 2015 Biosecurity Act.
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 numbers of people may otherwise choose to gather, such as shopping centres, schools or work," he said.
The power has already been used to quarantine Wuhan evacuees on Christmas Island and Diamond Princess cruise ship passengers in Howard Springs.
Mr Porter said human biosecurity orders could also be enacted to help officials track the spread of illness.
"(An order) could require any Australian to give information about people that they have contacted or had contact with so that we can trace transmission pathways," he said.
VACCINE COULD BE FOUND WITHIN 90 DAYS
Israeli scientists claim to be close to developing a vaccine for coronavirus that could be available in about 90 days, The Australian reports.
The MIGAL Galilee Research Institute says its researchers have developed an effective vaccine against avian coronavirus Infectious Bronchitis Virus (IBV), which is to be adapted soon and create a human vaccine against Covid-19.
"After four years of multidisciplinary research funded by Israel's Ministry of science and Technology in co-operation with Israel's Ministry of Agriculture, MIGAL has achieved a scientific breakthrough that will lead to the rapid creation of a vaccine against coronavirus," the institute says on its website.
"This possibility was identified as a by-product of MIGAL's development of a vaccine against IBV (Infectious Bronchitis Virus), a disease affecting poultry, whose effectiveness has been proven in preclinical trials carried out at the Volcani Institute."
Institute chief executive David Zigdon says the organisation is doing everything it can to accelerate development.
However a leading infectious diseases expert warns that it will take months to conduct animal trials and human trials and gain approval if and when the vaccine comes to fruition., The Australian reports.
VIRUS REACHES NYC, EASES IN CHINA
It comes as the coronavirus appeared for the first time in New York, Moscow and Berlin and clusters of the disease surged around the world, even as new cases in China dropped to their lowest level in six weeks on Monday and hundreds of patients were released from hospitals at the epicentre of the outbreak.
Almost nine times more cases were reported outside China than inside it over the past 24 hours, according to the head of the World Health Organisation, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
But the organisation's chief of emergencies pointed out that even regions that have taken less aggressive measures than the extraordinary lockdowns implemented by China have managed to keep the virus in check.
Dr Mike Ryan said that because Covid-19 is not as easily transmitted as the flu, "it offers us a glimmer … that this virus can be suppressed and contained."
Around the world, the virus reshaped people's routines, both at home and at work, from the millions of Japanese schoolchildren facing four weeks without class to special voting booths for Israelis under quarantine.
Mobile hospitals were planned in Iran, and the "Mona Lisa" hung in a vacant room of the shuttered Louvre in Paris.
VIRUS KILLS TOP IRANIAN OFFICIAL
A member of a council that advises Iran's supreme leader has died from the virus, becoming the highest-ranking official within the Islamic Republic's Shiite theocracy to be killed by the illness ravaging the country.
The death of Expediency Council member Mohammad Mirmohammadi came as Iran announced the virus had killed at least 66 people among 1501 confirmed cases.
There are over 1690 cases of the new coronavirus across the Mideast.
Of those outside Iran, most link back to the Islamic Republic, which after China has the highest death toll from the Covid-19 illness caused by the virus.
After downplaying the coronavirus as recently as last week, Iranian authorities now say they have plans to potentially mobilise 300,000 soldiers and volunteers to confront the virus.
Yet experts still worry Iran's percentage of deaths to infections, now around 4.4 per cent, is much higher than other countries, suggesting the number of infections in Iran may be much higher than current figures show.
Saudi Arabia and Jordan meanwhile announced their first cases of the virus Monday.
Mirmohammadi, 71, died at a north Tehran hospital of the virus, state media said.
His mother had reportedly died of the coronavirus in recent days as well.
Mirmohammadi, though not particularly well-known to the Iranian public, served as a top official in the presidencies of Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Ali Khamenei, now the country's supreme leader.
VIOLENT PROTESTS MEET SHIP FULL OF AUSSIES, KIWIS
Over the weekend violent protesters threw rocks and bottles as they tried to stop a cruise ship docking at in Réunion, a French territory off the coast of Africa - even though there was no known coronavirus threat, according to reports.
The Sun Princess, flying a British flag and carrying 2000 passengers - mostly from Australia and New Zealand - had already been refused entry to Madagascar because it had recently been to Thailand, which has had dozens of confirmed cases of the virus.
At least 30 protesters - many hurling stones and drink containers - then met the ship early Sunday when it docked on the idyllic Indian Ocean island.
Police eventually used tear gas to push back the protests, citing the local newspaper Imaz Press Réunion.
Videos on social media also showed fires break out during violent clashes.
"Some passengers were very distressed," Rod Pascoe, 67, who was on the seven-week cruise, told the New Zealand Herald.
"People feared for their safety."
While there have been no reported cases of Covid-19 on the ship, locals said they were terrified that passengers could inadvertently bring the deadly virus to their island having previously been in Thailand.
"We don't know if these people are sick, they were not tested. It is very dangerous," protester Yannis Latchimy said of the virus which has a 14-day incubation period.
"We just want to be sure that there is no risk of the coronavirus propagating."
Many of the passengers eventually made it onto the island with a population of just under 900,000, officials said.
However, the ship left later that day after local officials said they could not guarantee passengers' safety.
It was heading to Mauritius, but officials withdrew permission for it to dock late on Sunday, according to the New Zealand Herald.
"It's just unfortunate - when we left Australia this global fear hadn't been really developed," Mr Pascoe told the paper.
"It's completely overshadowed the whole journey."
INDONESIA ISSUES FIRST CONFIRMATION OF CASES
Indonesia's President has confirmed two cases of Covid-19 in West Java - the nation's first
acknowledged diagnoses of the coronavirus.
President Joko Widodo said the two Indonesians - a mother and daughter - had been in contact with a Japanese citizen who had been on holiday in Indonesia.
"This Japanese person is related to the two Indonesian people. A 64-year-old mother and
31-year-old daughter. When checked, it turns out both people are sick. This morning I got a
report from the Health Minister that the mother and daughter were positive to corona," Mr Widodo said.
He told a news conference that the Japanese person had tested positive to the virus while undergoing testing in Malaysia on February 27.
"Last week there was information that a Japanese living in Malaysia came to Indonesia.
After he returned (to Malaysia) and was checked there, he tested positive to corona."
Indonesia had repeatedly maintained that it had no evidence of the presence of the killer
virus until Monday.
The President said his government was prepared and that over 100 hospitals had prepared isolation wards.
"We also have equipment that meets international standards," he said.
Three people - two Singaporeans and one from Myanmar - tested positive to Covid-19 after visiting the Indonesian Riau Island in Batam Province - a popular tropical island escape in Asia.
NO THERMAL CAMERAS AT AIRPORTS
Thermal cameras will not be used at Australian airports to detect possible passenger coronavirus carriers with the Federal Government decommissioning its stocks of cameras after the swine flu scare and deeming them of no value to buy again now.
The decision follows fears passengers on a specific Qatar Airways flight from Doha may have been carrying the infection and airports globally have begun using the temperature-detecting cameras at airports to identify possible contagion carriers.
News Corp Australia has learnt thermal cameras deployed to Australian airports to detect swine flu H1N1 in 2009, after it was declared by the World Health Organisation (WHO) a global pandemic, were later deemed to be useless and decommissioned.
A meeting last month involving federal health authorities and other lead government agencies, including Home Affairs and Transport convened to discuss Covid-19, ruled there was no point now employing the technology again.
This was despite airports in Asia notably Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand and across Europe using them to monitor arriving passengers and even having designated arrival gates for high risk countries such as Italy.
The world leader Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the United States is equipped to screen passengers at 11 major international gateways in the US including New York and Los Angeles.
They have so far focused on visitors from China but are looking to extend to other level 3 (avoid all non-essential travel countries) such as South Korea and Iran.
Thermal scanners or sensors scan arriving passengers for high temperatures, deemed to be 38C or higher the threshold temperature for a "fever".
There are currently no tech screening operations at Australian airports despite direct flights from high corona infection rate countries and regions including Lombardy (Milan) in northern Italy.
A federal health spokeswoman working specifically on the coronavirus brief confirmed there were no plans to use screening cameras at airports and the country didn't have any.
"Thermal scanners will not be used," the spokeswoman told News Corp.
"The value of thermal scanners was assessed after pandemic H1N1 in 2009. Thermal scanners at airports lack the specificity and sensitivity to be a useful screening tool," she said.
"As a result the thermal scanners used by the Australian Government were decommissioned and replacements were not purchased."
The Australian Services Union assistant national secretary Linda White, representing 15,000 check in and airport gates staff, said the use of cameras was a government decision.
Hospital-like masks and protective gear were used for flights from China before they ceased three weeks ago.
"We want a safe workplace obviously, the reality is though given it's so widespread everyone would need to be checked, wouldn't they, because there are few countries in the world where there hasn't been a case," Ms White said.
"But look, we run safe work places we don't want people exposed to virus or anything that affects their health and we would advocate having them (cameras), advocating anything that would make it the best it can be, absolutely."
She said she would be meeting major aviation stakeholders Qantas on Tuesday.
Transport Minister Michael McCormack said it was an issue for Health Minister Greg Hunt. Mr Hunt's office did not reply to questions.
In 2009 the government was criticised for a "knee jerk reaction" in deploying the cameras. The Australian Airports Association declined to comment.