Where coronavirus evacuees will be sent
EXTRAORDINARY measures are being taken in a desperate bid to contain the spread of the deadly new coronavirus, including a quarantine zone on Christmas Island for Australian evacuees from China and self-isolation for travellers returning from Hubei.
It follows a seventh Australian testing positive for the disease and the first Queensland case, as well as a disturbing new development which is seeing the contagion seemingly spread before the carrier begins to show symptoms.
Health authorities are urging anyone who has recently returned from Hubei, or who has been in contact with an infected person, to isolate themselves at home for 14 days.
There were more than 6000 cases confirmed worldwide, including 132 deaths, but those numbers were expected to climb overnight.
The Federal Government is trying to evacuate up to 600 Australians trapped in the locked-down Chinese province of Hubei, of which the capital Wuhan is ground zero for the outbreak.
The Government is requesting permission from Beijing to do so and scrambling consular officials to the region.
But Prime Minister Scott Morrison said it would be "last in, first out" situation, with vulnerable, young and elderly Australians to be prioritised.
"I want to stress that we cannot give a guarantee that this operation is able to succeed and I also want to stress very clearly that we may not be in a position if we're able to do this on one occasion to do it on another occasion," he said.
Evacuees will be sent to Christmas Island, where they will be housed in a quarantine zone set up within existing facilities on the island.
They will be met by AUSMAT (Australian Medical Assistance Teams) who will treat them over a 14-day quarantine period.
The quarantine time could change if medical advice is updated as more become known about the virus.
While the Tamil family from Biloela, Nadesalingam, Priya and their two children, remain on Christmas Island they will be housed in a separate area, with precautions put in place.
There has also been a man in his 60s who tested positive yesterday morning in Melbourne, becoming the sixth Australian confirmed to have the disease.
He is now being kept in isolation, having presented with respiratory problems.
The man had recently travelled to Wuhan and became ill soon after returning to Australia.
Meanwhile, Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy said there was emerging evidence in rare cases that the new coronavirus was transferring between people where the carrier was showing no symptoms.
This development sparked an urgent meeting of Australia's top medical officers who now advise anyone who has recently returned from Hubei to isolate themselves at home for 14 days.
He said the same "highly precautionary advice" was also issued for anyone who had contact with a patient who had tested positive for the new coronavirus.
"Given the substantial lower number of cases in China outside Hubei province, we do not currently recommend self-isolation for travellers from other parts of China are from other countries," Prof Murphy said.
"The aim of the policy is containment of novel coronavirus and the prevention of person to person transmission in Australia."
But he said it was unlikely pre-symptomatic transmission of the disease would occur in Australia.
"It's probably unlikely because we believe the nature of coronaviruses is that they general are only infectious when you're symptomatic," Prof Murphy said.
"That's what we saw with SARS, that's what we saw with MERS. All the evidence from China suggests that nearly all of the cases are only infectious when they're symptomatic."
There have now been examples in Germany and Japan where authorities believe people have contracted coronavirus from someone who had yet to show any symptoms.
International health experts are continuing to monitor the worrying development.
Health Minister Greg Hunt said one million medical masks from Australia's stockpile were being released to GP offices.
"We have now a supply of 21.5 million masks, 12 million P2 masks and nine million surgical masks which are on the advice the appropriate masks for this particular type of action," he said.