Brisbane man tested for mystery virus

Australia's CMO Brendan Murphy says the risk to the public from coronavirus remains relatively low.
Australia's CMO Brendan Murphy says the risk to the public from coronavirus remains relatively low.

A Brisbane man who recently returned from China is being tested to check whether he has contracted a new strain of coronavirus.

While Australia's chief medical officer earlier said the risk to the Australian public from the virus is low and there's no need for alarm, the man has been isolated.

"Although, we do need to keep a precautionary and active surveillance of the situation," Brendan Murphy told reporters in Canberra on Tuesday.

Queensland health authorities confirmed later on Tuesday they were testing the man for the virus after he recently returned from visiting family in Wuhan.

Wuhan, the sprawling capital of central China's Hubei province, is the epicentre of the coronavirus, which to date has led to four deaths out of more than 200 cases.

Australia has raised its travel advice for Wuhan, telling people to exercise a high degree of caution.

But Scott Morrison urged Australians to stay calm about the disease's potential on home soil after a briefing from Prof Murphy.

The prime minister said the coronavirus strain was not like SARS, which had a much higher mortality rate.

"There have only been a small number of fatalities in China related to this outbreak and it's being monitored very closely," he told Sky News.

Queensland Chief Health Officer Dr Jeannette Young said the infected man was being isolated in his Brisbane home after showing flu-like symptoms.

Dr Young said authorities were waiting for a "primer" from the World Health Organisation which would allow them to confirm it was coronavirus.

She urged anyone who had returned from China with respiratory issues to go straight to their GP.

"There is no vaccine for this virus and we don't see one on the horizon," Dr Young said.

Prof Murphy said border authorities would screen direct flights from Wuhan landing in Sydney.

There are three flights a week from Wuhan into Sydney and each of these flights would now be met by biosecurity staff from Thursday.

Information will be displayed across all other points of entry into Australia to warn people who develop symptoms to seek urgent medical attention.

Prof Murphy said screening was reliant on people self-reporting.

The virus' most common symptom is a high fever but Prof Murphy said measures like screening for temperatures had missed a large number of cases in the past.

He said the current number of confirmed cases was probably an underestimate with confirmed cases in other parts of China, as well as Japan, Thailand and South Korea.

While the United States had already started screening for the virus at airports, Prof Murphy said Australia's response was proportionate.

"People get frightened and there's often media hype and that's why I think it's important to reassure the public that we are well prepared," he said.

Australian Associated Press