Latest coronavirus update: 20 February 2020

  • Australian confirmed cases: 15
  • Worldwide cases more than 75,000. Fatality rate 2.7% (outside mainland China 0.6%)

Previous updates

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 2019-nCoV. The disease it causes has been officiallly 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.

Where did the novel coronavirus come from?

Coronaviruses are what are known as zoonotic – meaning they can be transmitted from animals to people. The 2019-nCoV 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, although some experts suggest that an infected person has the potential to infect another 4 people, which is actually a very high level of transmission, if true. 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.

how a virus with RO of 2 spreads

Image: The Conversation. CC BY-ND

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, avoiding contact with anyone showing respiratory symptoms (such as coughing or sneezing), and avoiding touching your eyes, nose and mouth.

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.

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.

What should you do if you have symptoms or have recently returned from Hubei Province?

If you have a fever and respiratory symptoms and have recently returned from China, or have had contact with someone who has symptoms or who has been in China, make an appointment to see your doctor or your emergency department. Call ahead and tell them your situation.

Even if you don’t have symptoms, any traveller returning from Hubei Province in China must isolate themselves in their home for 14 days after leaving Hubei – aside from seeking medical attention. From 1 February this advice has been extended to ask all travellers from, or who have transited through, mainland China, arriving in Australia to self-isolate for a period of 14 days from the time they left mainland China.

Similarly, if you have had contact with someone who has been confirmed as having novel coronavirus, you should also be isolated at home for 14 days after exposure.

What if I am told to isolate at home?

Don’t go to work, school or childcare. 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. The Australian Government Department of Health advises you don’t need to wear a mask in the home. Avoid cooking or caring for other members of your family. If you need to leave the home for medical care, wear a surgical mask if you have one.

Is there a test for novel coronavirus 2019?

If your general practitioner suspects you have the novel coronavirus 2019, they will probably want to take nose and throat swabs from you and send them for testing. It may take a few days to get the test results. The samples are subject to a PCR test, which analyses and identifies genetic material of the coronavirus. You will need to remain isolated in your home until you have been cleared by public health authorities.

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.

Where can I get more information on coronavirus?

The Australian Government Department of Health website has more information. There is also a National Coronavirus Information Line on 1800 020 080, which is providing public health information.

Is there a vaccine for novel coronavirus 2019?

There is no vaccine for the novel coronavirus at this time, but scientists are racing to develop one. Human trials for the vaccine will likely start in a few months.

What if I am scheduled to travel to China or other affected destinations?

The Australian Government provides advice and information on travelling safely overseas on the Smartraveller  website. The initial advice not to travel to the Hubei Province of China has now been broadened to include all of mainland China.

Previous updates

Coronavirus update: 17 February 2020

  • Australian confirmed cases: 15
  • Worldwide cases more than 69,000. Fatality rate 2.4%

Coronavirus update: 13 February 2020

  • Australian confirmed cases: 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: 17/02/2020



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2. Australian Government Department of Health. Novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV). Information for a suspected case.
3. NSW Health. Novel coronavirus - Frequently asked questions. (updated 28 January 2020)
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5. Centers for Disease Control 2019 Novel coronavirus, Wuhan, China.
6. World Health Organization. Novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV).
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8. Australian Health Protection Principal Committee. Statement on Novel Coronavirus on behalf of the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPCC). 29 January 2020.
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10. Australian Department of Health. Novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) information sheet. (Bilingual)Published 30 January 2020.