Novel coronavirus – COVID-19
Latest update: 6 April 2020
- Australian researchers working on an immunity test for COVID-19
- Ivermectin, an anti-parasitic drug, kills SARS-CoV-2 virus in cell culture
- People with heart disease at higher risk of severe COVID-19 complications
- Australia confirmed cases: 5750 with 37 deaths
- Worldwide confirmed cases: 1,203,000 with 64,700 deaths
What is the novel coronavirus 2019?
The virus causing the respiratory outbreak that started in Wuhan City, China, in late 2019 is a new strain (novel) of coronavirus that hasn’t previously been identified in humans. Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses found worldwide; some infect humans; some infect animals including bats. Other coronaviruses which have caused respiratory illness in humans include some common cold viruses, SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) and MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome). The new coronavirus has been named SARS-CoV-2. The disease it causes has been officially named COVID-19 by the World Health Organization (‘Co’ for coronavirus, ‘vi’ for virus, ‘d’ for disease, and ’19’ for the year it was detected).
Coronaviruses cause respiratory illness, and the 2019 novel coronavirus symptoms include fever, cough and shortness of breath, leading to breathing difficulties. If severe the infection can lead to pneumonia, severe acute respiratory distress, kidney failure and even death.
The incubation period of the virus may be as short as 2 days after exposure to as long as 2 weeks after exposure. It is not known at which point a person becomes infectious. Chinese experts believe it is before a fever emerges, while others think it is only when there’s a fever and respiratory symptoms.
What should you do if you have symptoms?
If you have symptoms of COVID-19, such as respiratory symptoms (cough, sore throat, shortness of breath) or fever, call your doctor (do not go there directly) or ring the Government’s National Coronavirus Helpline on 1800 020 080.
Call and tell them your situation, including your symptoms, travel history and any close contact you may have had with someone who has been diagnosed with coronavirus. The helpline is operated 24 hours per day, 7 days per week.
States and territories are publishing details of flights that have been identified as having had confirmed cases of COVID-19 on board.
All Australians will be able to access telehealth consultations (in some cases bulkbilled by Medicare) by telephone or video conferencing (such as FaceTime, Zoom or Skype).
If you are advised to leave home to visit the doctor or a COVID-19 testing clinic, wear a surgical mask, if you have one, to protect other people. Stay at least 1.5 metres from others and cover your coughs and sneezes.
If you have respiratory symptoms, don’t go out – stay at home, unless advised to go for testing.
Is there a test for COVID-19?
There are tests to diagnose COVID-19. Your GP or the National Coronavirus Helpline (1800 020 080) can help with testing advice.
The criteria for being tested have been expanded since earlier restrictions and may vary between states and territories. General Practitioners have more discretion to order tests, and generally anyone with symptoms in a COVID-19 hotspot is encouraged to get tested. COVID-19 screening clinics have been set up, including pop-up clinics in some locations.
Initially the testing criteria were:
- having recently returned from overseas in the past 14 days
- having had contact with a known case or
- cruise ship passengers and crew who have travelled in the 14 days before symptoms started.
These were then extended to also include:
- healthcare workers, aged or residential care workers with fever or history of fever or who have signs of a respiratory infection (e.g. cough, shortness of breath, sore throat).
- anyone in hospital with fever and onset of respiratory symptoms of an unknown cause.
- individual patients with symptoms/illness consistent with COVID-19 who live in a localised area with increased risk of community transmission (a hotspot).
- where there are 2 or more plausibly linked cases in specific settings (aged care, residential facilities, military settings, boarding schools, correctional facilities, detention centres, Aboriginal communities, and areas at increased risk of community transmission).
Since then, states and territories have the discretion to set their own testing criteria.
In Australia, PCR tests are used to diagnose COVID-19 in people with symptoms. Several rapid antibody tests are being evaluated, but these are not suited to detecting infection in its early stages. Medicare will cover both types of test.
- PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests. These tests analyse and identify genetic material of the coronavirus. PCR tests detect the virus and can only diagnose people who are currently infected. PCR tests are good at detecting the virus early in the infection. They may detect the virus even before symptoms are present. The test is done by taking a throat and nasal swab. It may take 1-2 days to get the test results. After the test, you may need to remain isolated in your home until you have been cleared by public health authorities.
- Rapid antibody tests. Several point-of-care finger-prick blood tests have been approved for use in Australia and will be assessed. Antibody tests do not detect the virus and cannot detect early COVID infection. They detect specific antibodies your body has made to fight the infection. But these antibodies may only be present starting from 5-7 days into the infection. This means the tests can give a false negative if done in the first days after a person is infected. This could lead to a person spreading the virus without knowing they are infected. Where antibody tests might be useful is in detecting immunity in people who have already been exposed to the virus. These tests can give results in as little as 15 minutes.
Home tests are going on sale in other countries, such as the UK, but are prohibited in Australia.
How can you protect yourself?
The usual ways of protecting yourself against respiratory infection apply to protecting yourself against coronavirus. These include regular hand washing with soap and water (for at least 20 seconds), avoiding contact with anyone showing respiratory symptoms (such as coughing or sneezing), and avoiding touching your eyes, nose and mouth. Use only disposable tissues, and dispose of them immediately after use.
Respiratory viruses such as coronaviruses may be acquired by touching surfaces or objects contaminated by droplets or secretions from an infected person’s cough or sneeze, especially if you then go on to touch your mouth or face.
Regularly cleaning surfaces that are frequently touched, such as door handles, light switches, bathroom and kitchen areas, will help minimise the spread of germs. Use household detergent or disinfectant.
You should also always practise good cough etiquette yourself.
The Australian Government Department of Health advises that face masks are not currently recommended for the healthy public to protect against infections like coronavirus, but they could prevent the transmission of the virus from infected patients to others.
Infographic courtesy of healthdirect.
How can we stop the spread?
The Australian Government has put measures in place to minimise the spread of the virus and these are constantly evolving. All Australians need to play their part to protect the broader community and also themselves.
Some of the measures are:
- Closure of non-essential services. All non-essential services, such as gyms, clubs, indoor sports halls, cinemas, restaurants and cafes, and most religious gatherings were ordered to be closed on Monday 23 March. From March 26, stage 2 restrictions included other venues and activities, including food courts, personal services such as beauty therapy, massage and tattoo parlours, galleries, museums, libraries, community halls, health clubs and swimming pools. Boot camps are also now excluded under the 2 person rule. Personal training must be limited to a trainer with one client. Weddings are restricted to 5 people and funerals to no more than 10 people. Real estate open house inspections and auctions (except online) are not permitted.
- Stay at home. Australians must stay at home, other than for 4 acceptable reasons, which are briefly: shopping for what you need; medical care or compassionate grounds; exercise; and for work and education if you cannot do so remotely.
- Social distancing. Australians must practise social distancing by keeping at least 1.5 metres away from other people when outside their own homes. This is enforceable by law (in some states). Stay at home unless absolutely necessary. Avoid physical greetings, such as handshakes. Use tap and pay instead of cash. Travel at quiet times. Avoid crowds and at-risk groups.
- Social gatherings. The number of people allowed to socially gather is 2 from midnight 30 March. This does not apply to people within your own household, but you cannot host guests at your own house – indoors or outdoors. You are permitted to visit your parents or siblings who live in another house.
- Interstate travel. There are limits to interstate travel in some states and territory, some quarantine measures, and some border closures.
- Australian borders. These are closed to non-citizens and non-residents. Anyone arriving in Australia from overseas will be subject to a 14-day mandatory quarantine in a Government quarantine centre.
Aged care facilities – these have special restrictions in place.
Donating blood – Australian Red Cross Lifeblood have introduced extra measures in Blood Donor Centres to keep donors 1.5 metres apart, whenever they can. The centres are open and need donations. You should make an appointment first.
Self-isolation and quarantine
You must self-isolate for 14 days if:
- you have COVID-19
- you have had close contact with someone who has been confirmed as having COVID-19 (from the date of your last exposure to that person)
- you arrived in Australia after midnight 15 March and before midnight March 28.
In a measure introduced on midnight March 28, all international travellers arriving into Australia (including residents) are being quarantined for 14 days in Government quarantine centres, which include hotels. This is mandatory and replaces the previous requirement to self-isolate for 14 days (symptoms or not) which started midnight March 15.
What if I am told to isolate at home?
Do not leave your home unless it is an emergency. That means don’t go to work, school or childcare, or any public places. Stay home and practise good hygiene to protect those around you. Don’t allow any visitors into your home and limit your contact with those around you. Follow the Australian Government Department of Health’s advice on self-isolation at home. Avoid cooking or caring for other members of your family. Ask other people to get food and other necessities for you. Prescription medicines can be organised by telehealth (bulk-billed) and usually can be delivered to your home. If you are well, you do not need to wear a surgical mask inside, but if you are advised to leave the home for medical care, wear a surgical mask if you have one.
Monitor yourself for symptoms. If you start to feel unwell with coronavirus symptoms, ring your GP urgently for assessment. Bulk-billed telehealth services are available funded by Medicare.
The advice is different if you are diagnosed with COVID-19 – there’s a difference between self-isolation and quarantine. If you have COVID-19 you must have a separate bedroom and wear a mask inside the house when other people are present. Only household members who are involved in caring for you should stay in the home, if possible. Shared surfaces must be cleaned daily with household disinfectant or diluted bleach.
Are there any treatments?
Because this infection is caused by a virus, antibiotics are not effective against it. There are currently no specific treatments for this novel coronavirus. If you test positive to the virus, you will either be required to remain at home or in isolation in hospital, depending on how sick you are. Public Health Officers will advise you when it is safe for you to resume your normal activities.
The symptoms will usually go away with supportive care.
What is the fatality rate of COVID-19?
The World Health Organization reported the fatality rate for COVID-19 as 3.4% globally (4 March 2020). This is higher than seasonal flu, which has a fatality rate of approximately 1%. Since then (on 10 March 2020) a global fatality rate of 3.9% has been reported. In China, the fatality rate of COVID-19 is higher than that in other parts of the world. Outside mainland China the fatality rate is now estimated at 2.4%. Analysis of deaths in China has shown the fatality rate differs across different age groups, rising to 14% in those over 80 years.
Where can I get more information on coronavirus?
More information is available at:
- Australian Government Department of Health website
- National Coronavirus Information Line on 1800 020 080, which is providing public health information.
- The Federal Government’s Coronavirus Australia app, which is available on the App Store, Google Play and the Government’s WhatsApp channel.
Is there a vaccine for COVID-19?
There is no vaccine for the novel coronavirus at this time, but scientists are racing to develop one. Human testing for one potential vaccine against COVID-19 started in the USA in March. Pre-clinical evaluation of 2 potential COVID-19 vaccines by CSIRO started in April.
What if I am scheduled to travel overseas?
The Australian Government’s travel advice as at 18 March is, do not travel overseas at this time. This is the highest level of advice (level 4 of 4). They also advise if you are already overseas and wish to return to Australia, do so as soon as possible by commercial means.
The Australian Government provides advice and information on travelling safely overseas on the Smartraveller website. Travel restrictions by Australia and other countries are under constant review and changing quickly. Make sure you keep up to date with restrictions if you are travelling, including for countries you transit through.
Where did the novel coronavirus come from?
Coronaviruses are what are known as zoonotic – meaning they can be transmitted from animals to people. The SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus is believed to have originated in a live seafood and animal food market in Wuhan, China.
Since the outbreak started, however, many infected people have not had any contact with the food markets, demonstrating that the infection can be spread between people. How easily this human to human transmission occurs is yet to be determined. Experts refer to this infection rate in terms of the R0 value (R nought), which represents the average number of new cases caused by one infected person. So far, the World Health Organization has given an R0 of 1.4-2.5 for the novel coronavirus.
Image: The Conversation. CC BY-ND
Coronavirus update: 3 April 2020
- Worldwide confirmed cases pass 1 million
- CSIRO begins pre-clinical testing of 2 potential vaccines for COVID-19
- World Health Organization to review advice on face masks
Coronavirus update: 2 April 2020
- Australia confirmed cases: 5108, with 23 deaths.
- Worldwide confirmed cases: 932,605, with 46,809 deaths
Coronavirus update: 31 March 2020
- Australia confirmed cases: 4512, with 18 deaths
- Worldwide confirmed cases: 786,291 with 37,820 deaths.
- COVID-19 survivors’ blood plasma may help critically ill
- COVID-19 training tool for lung CT may help diagnosis
Coronavirus update: 30 March 2020
- Australia confirmed cases: 4035 with 17 deaths.
- Worldwide confirmed cases: 718,865, with 33,881 deaths.
Coronavirus update: 27 March 2020
- Australia confirmed cases: more than 3000, with 13 deaths
- Worldwide: more than 500,000 confirmed cases
Coronavirus update: 25 March 2020
- Gastrointestinal symptoms common in COVID-19 patients
- Australia confirmed cases: 2486 with 11 deaths
Coronavirus update: 24 March 2020
- Australia confirmed cases: more than 2000 with 8 deaths
- Worldwide cases: 374,000 with 16,411 deaths. 168 countries with confirmed cases.
- Can loss of sense of smell be a symptom of COVID-19?
Coronavirus update: 22 March 2020
- Australian confirmed cases: 1107 with 7 deaths
- Worldwide cases: 307,278 with 13,049 deaths
- World Health Organization launches SOLIDARITY trial of 4 potential COVID-19 treatments
Coronavirus update: 20 March 2020
- COVID-19: Young people can be severely affected too
- Australian confirmed cases: 757 with 7 deaths
- Worldwide cases: 244,517 with 10,030 deaths
Coronavirus update: 19 March 2020
- Australian confirmed cases: 636 with 6 deaths.
- Worldwide confirmed cases: more than 218,000; 8810 deaths.
Coronavirus update: 18 March 2020
- Australian scientists map the immune system’s response during the course of COVID-19.
- Australian confirmed cases: 512 with 5 deaths.
Coronavirus update: 17 March 2020
- Queensland researchers find 2 existing medicines effective at treating COVID-19 and are hoping to start clinical trials.
- First potential vaccine for COVID-19 starts human testing in USA.
- Australia: Confirmed cases 377; 5 deaths.
Coronavirus update: 14 March 2020
- Confirmed cases in Australia: 200
- Worldwide confirmed cases: 145,000 with 5410 deaths
- World Health Organization has declared Europe the centre of the pandemic currently
Coronavirus update: 12 March 2020
- World Health Organization declares coronavirus COVID-19 a pandemic
Coronavirus update: 11 March 2020
- Confirmed cases in Australia: 112, with 3 deaths and 22 recovered
- Worldwide confirmed cases: 117,000 with 4200 deaths
- Global fatality rate: 3.9%; Fatality rate outside China 2.4%
Coronavirus update: 9 March 2020
- Confirmed cases in Australia: 80, with 3 deaths and 22 recovered
- Worldwide confirmed cases: 105,000 with 3500 deaths
Coronavirus update: 5 March 2020
- Confirmed cases in Australia are rising daily: currently 52, with 2 deaths
- Authorities are focussed on slowing spread in the community by responding to cases as they emerge
Coronavirus update: 4 March 2020
- Confirmed cases in Australia: 33
- Worldwide fatality rate 3.4% (1.8% outside mainland China)
- Iran, Italy and South Korea have rapid increase in new cases
Coronavirus update: 3 March 2020
- 2 cases (including a Sydney doctor) are thought to be the first instances of person-to-person transmission in Australia
- Worldwide: over 90,000 cases
Coronavirus update: 2 March 2020
- Confirmed cases in Australia: 29 (15 have recovered; 1 has sadly died)
- First death in Australia from COVID-19.
- First death in USA from COVID-19.
- There are COVID-19 cases in 64 countries outside mainland China.
Coronavirus update: 26 February 2020
- Confirmed cases in Australia: 23 (15 have recovered)
- Australia activates the Emergency Response Plan for novel coronavirus (‘COVID-19 Plan’)
- Worldwide: more than 80,000 confirmed cases (fatality rate 3.4%)
- Fatality rate outside mainland China: 1.4%
Coronavirus update: 24 February 2020
- Australia confirmed cases: 22 (10 have recovered; 7 cases were repatriated from Japan)
- Worldwide cases: over 78,000; fatality rate approximately 3%
- Australian researchers are days away from starting animal testing of new vaccine for the novel coronavirus
Coronavirus update: 20 February 2020
- Australia confirmed cases: 15
- Worldwide cases more than 75,000. Fatality rate 2.7% (outside mainland China 0.6%)
Coronavirus update: 17 February 2020
- Confirmed cases in Australia: 15
- Worldwide cases more than 69,000. Fatality rate 2.4%
Coronavirus update: 13 February 2020
- Confirmed cases in Australia: 15
- Worldwide cases 60,286; total deaths 1367.
- Hubei Province adopted a new methodology for counting infections.
- Largest rise in daily death toll since December.
Coronavirus update: 12 February 2020
- World Health Organization names the disease caused by the new coronavirus, COVID-19.
Coronavirus update: 9 February 2020
- 15 confirmed cases in Australia
- More than 37,000 confirmed cases worldwide with 813 reported deaths; fatality rate of 2.16%
Coronavirus update: 6 February 2020
- 14 confirmed cases Australia; 165 people being tested.
- Over 24,000 confirmed cases worldwide; 492 deaths reported.
Coronavirus update: 4 February 2020
- 12 confirmed cases in Australia. Over 17,000 confirmed cases worldwide, with 362 deaths.
Coronavirus update: 3 February 2020
- Australians are being evacuated from Wuhan, the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak
- 14,561 cases confirmed worldwide, with 305 deaths, which is a 2.09% fatality rate.
Coronavirus update: 2 February 2020
- 12 confirmed cases in Australia; nearly 12,000 confirmed cases worldwide
- First death attributable to coronavirus outside of China reported in Philippines (44-year-old man from Wuhan)
Coronavirus update: 1 February 2020
- Number of confirmed cases in Australia: 10
- 14-day self-isolation advice broadened to include inbound travellers from any part of mainland China
Coronavirus update: 31 January 2020
- 9 confirmed cases in Australia; more than 200 people tested
- Fatality rate is 2.17% internationally
- World Health Organization has declared the outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.
Coronavirus update: 30 January 2020
- 7 confirmed cases in Australia; more people are under investigation
- Australia’s Chief Medical Officer has advised that people returning from the Hubei province in China should self-isolate themselves in their home for 14 days, even if they don’t have symptoms
- Anyone who has been in contact with a confirmed case of novel coronavirus must be isolated in their home for 14 days following exposure.
Coronavirus update: 29 January 2020
- Number of confirmed cases in Australia: 5
- Number of confirmed cases worldwide: 2800, with 80 deaths.
- Novel coronavirus 2019 has been grown by Melbourne’s Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity, paving the way for vaccine development and testing.
Last Reviewed: 06/04/2020
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