Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) statement on coronavirus (COVID-19) 24 February 2020
Statement from Australian Health Protection Principal Committee on the Community Response to novel coronavirus.
There is significant ongoing concern in the Hubei province with continued growth in case numbers and deaths. The variation in case definitions complicates the interpretation of reported cases, but it is likely that milder cases may not be diagnosed due to system capacity issues in Hubei province.
In the remainder of mainland China, whilst there are further increases in case numbers and some deaths, there is some evidence of moderation of growth which suggests that containment is reducing transmission. The longer term sustainability of containment measures in China is uncertain.
There is growing concern about community transmission in a number of countries. In particular, the rapid rise in case numbers in South Korea and Japan (including the Diamond Princess cruise ship cases) is troubling, as are the data from Italy and Iran. There are also countries felt to be at risk of transmission due to travel volumes from China that have limited reports or no reporting of cases to date such as Vietnam, Cambodia and Indonesia. Additionally, unlinked cases in Hong Kong SAR and Singapore remain a cause for concern.
AHPPC believes that these international developments increase significantly the risk of a COVID-19 pandemic (sustained community transmission in several countries). We note, however, that global efforts still remain focused on containment and many of the countries with significant identified outbreaks have strong health systems.
Situation in Australia
In Australia there is still effective containment of the COVID-19 outbreak with only 22 cases diagnosed so far. Fifteen of these were linked to travel from Hubei province prior to 1 February, and seven more recent cases were imported with the returning passengers from the Diamond Princess cruise ship. GPs and hospitals are continuing to screen returning travellers for illness, and there have been several thousand negative tests to date.
There is no evidence of community transmission in Australia at present and there is no reason for the general community to take additional precautions, such as wearing masks, or avoiding restaurants and other places of public gathering. However, it is a timely reminder that everyone should practise good hygiene to protect against infections.
On the advice of infectious disease experts, since 29 January 2020 self-isolation and quarantine procedures have been in place for people at high risk of COVID-19. We thank the Australian society for supporting these important measures. The isolation procedures have ensured that the Australian community has remained protected from COVID-19. As a result of the isolation procedures, there has been no evidence of sustained human to human transmission of the virus in the Australian community.
To date, only 15 cases of COVID-19 have been detected in the Australian community, despite thousands of tests being performed. The isolation procedures have been highly effective at stopping the spread of COVID-19 and ensuring the safety and welfare of the Australian community.
The only new cases (seven cases bringing the total to 22) of COVID-19 that have been identified since 7 February have been in a high risk group of repatriated Australians from the Diamond Princess who have been quarantined for the protection of the broader community and who are receiving world class medical care.
However, if a global pandemic develops, it would be almost impossible to prevent widespread community transmission in Australia. Accordingly, AHPPC and all health and government agencies have been, and will continue to be, engaging in pandemic preparedness activities. We have recently endorsed and activated the Australian Health Sector Emergency Response Plan For Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19), which is based on the existing Australian Health Management Plan for Pandemic Influenza.
Whilst most cases of COVID-19 seem to have mild disease, there are clearly some with serious disease who would require hospital treatment. Although Australian researchers have joined international efforts to develop a vaccine, it is likely it is months, if not years, before this can be deployed. We have an excellent health system in Australia and are well prepared.
A significant local outbreak of COVID-19 would place very substantial pressure on the health system. Further planning and preparation at all levels of the health system is required to cover all potential scenarios.
The public should expect that messaging will change over time. The AHPPC is meeting daily to update its advice.
Find out more about coronavirus (COVID-19)
Read our health alert page. We update it daily with the latest medical advice and official reports.