Travellers arriving at Sydney airport from the Chinese city of Wuhan will face additional biosecurity measures as Australian health authorities attempt to prevent the outbreak of a new coronavirus infiltrating the country.
The virus, which first broke out at a fish market in Wuhan before spreading across China and to parts of South Korea, Thailand and Japan, has already killed at least three people and infected hundreds.
It can be spread between humans and causes pneumonia, with symptoms including cough, fever and breathing difficulties.
Speaking at a press conference in Canberra this morning, Australia’s Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy announced the ramped up biosecurity measures but stressed there was no cause for alarm in Australia at this stage as risk remained relatively low.
There are three direct flights between Sydney and Wuhan each week and passengers will now be screened for the virus.
Under Australian legislation, airlines must report passengers on board showing signs of an infectious disease, including fever, sweats or chills.
“Each of these flights will now be met by our border security and biosecurity staff and NSW health,” Professor Murphy said.
“They will be providing to all the passengers an information pamphlet in English and Mandarin outlining the symptoms this disease might deliver and asking them to identify themselves at the border if anyone has a fever or any of the symptoms [and] suspect that they might have this disease.”
Professor Murphy said while hundreds of people had already been infected by the respiratory illness, the true number of cases was likely higher.
“What we do know is that whilst we have 220 confirmed cases, that’s likely to be a significant underestimation because there are a significant number of mild cases and mild cases in these outbreaks often go undetected.”
Health authorities around the world are continuing to monitor the outbreak closely and the World Health Organization (WHO) is set to announce tomorrow whether it constitutes it a health emergency of international concern.