The first case of novel coronavirus has been confirmed in Queensland, bringing Australia’s total number of people infected to seven – just hours after a second case was identified in Victoria.
A 44-year-old Chinese national from Wuhan has contracted the disease and is currently stable and isolated at the Gold Coast University Hospital, Queensland’s Chief Medical Officer Jeannette Young said.
Earlier on Wednesday, a Victorian man in his 60s was identified as having contracted the virus after he became unwell on 23 January.
Another 14 people were currently undergoing testing in the state, Victoria’s Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said.
“It does bring home the issue that we need to bear in mind that anyone coming out of China and in particular from Wuhan or Hubei province is not at insignificant risk of developing illness with coronavirus,” Dr Sutton said.
The recent cases were announced after the number of people being investigated for the virus in NSW jumped from six to 16, as health authorities encouraged people with minor cold-like systems to come forward.
NSW Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant told reporters on Wednesday that authorities have found that the symptoms of the virus, also known as 2019-nCoV, can be more varied than originally thought.
“Even if you have that bit of runny nose, you are feeling just unwell, please come forward because we want to both detect those cases but also it will help us in our understanding,” she said, adding that testing had been broadened to include people who have visited the wider central Chinese Hubei province.
The other confirmed cases in Australia are all in Sydney, including one woman and three men.
Meanwhile, seven people in South Australia are currently undergoing testing, according to the state’s health department, after four people were cleared in Western Australia on Tuesday night.
In Queensland, the Chinese woman’s football team, who had recently travelled to Wuhan, has been isolated at a Brisbane hotel despite not showing any symptoms, Dr Young said.
Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy on Wednesday evening warned that experts believed the virus was contagious before people experienced any symptoms, leading the government to urge people who have travelled to the Hubei province to self-isolate for 14 days, even if they feel well.
Professor Murphy said the Australian Health Protection Principal committee was aware of a “coronavirus who are at the time of diagnosis asymptomatic or minimally symptomatic”.
“We’re also aware of one fairly convincing case of probable transmission from a pre-symptomatic case to other people two days prior to the onset of symptoms,” he said.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison earlier announced plans to evacuate some of the hundreds of Australians currently trapped in Wuhan, the epicentre of the virus, and send them to Christmas Island for a two-week quarantine period.
The decision to use Christmas Island as a “quarantine area” was slammed by the Shire Council Mayor of Christmas Island Gordon Thomson, who reportedly told ABC News it would “create a convict settlement for innocent people, now we’ll be a leper colony.”
More than 50 million people have been locked down in and around Wuhan in a bid by authorities to stop the spread of the virus, which has so far infected almost 6,000 people and killed 132.
In response, the government has updated it’s Smart Traveller website warning Australians against travel to the entirety of China.
On Tuesday, NSW and Western Australian authorities urged parents to keep their children home from school if they had travelled to China within the past two weeks, conflicting with federal government advice that students should attend school as usual.
Victoria and Queensland made similar announcements the following day.
“My kids went back to school this week as many other kids have,” Mr Morrison said on Wednesday.
“I understand the issues and concerns that parents would have. Being one of them myself. And that is why it is important to take the advice, and I think the chief medical officer today has set out the situation very soundly.”