How authorities will ward off pandemic

HEALTH authorities will fast-track specialised "fever clinics" across the country, and more travel bans are not being ruled out, amid fears the deadly coronavirus could reach pandemic proportions.

The move comes as about $50 billion was wiped off Australia's sharemarket yesterday with investors fearing the impact of the coronavirus.

Australian chief medical officer Brendan Murphy said yesterday several million Australians would be at risk if an outbreak were to happen.

But he maintained he was confident in Australia's "excellent" containment measures.

Queensland already has two emergency fever clinics in the Gold Coast and Brisbane to treat suspected coronavirus patients, as hospitals "war-game" the threat of a pandemic. 

With the virus continuing its devastating spread across Asia and now Europe, Aussie travellers are being advised to exercise a high degree of caution when travelling to Japan and South Korea, as further outbreaks are recorded.



The death toll from Covid-19 has risen above 2460, while there are almost 79,000 confirmed cases of the disease worldwide.

South Korea now has the largest number of cases outside of China, 763, after a surge of 163 confirmed diagnoses.

Prof Murphy said this and cases in Japan led to Australia increasing travel advice to those countries.

The Government is also keeping a close eye on concerns in northern Italy.

Queensland Health Minister Steven Miles said hospitals in Cairns and Townsville had set aside rooms and were ready to assign medical staff to specialist fever clinics if the virus continued to spread. 

The clinics -- which are isolated within emergency wards -- are already operating at the Gold Coast University Hospital and Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital.

Fever clinics are used to assess patients and minimise the chance of them infecting others.

If necessary, they could be later admitted to isolation wards.

All Health and Hospital Services are planning similar units that can be opened at short notice.



Prof Murphy said he could not rule out further travel bans to other countries if the outbreak worsened.

"Clearly you cannot isolate a country from a large number of countries, but you have to look at the proportionate risk of the number of cases in those countries and the capacity of that country to control them," he said.

Queensland Tourism Industry Council boss Daniel Gschwind said the impact of the existing travel ban had already been severe, with businesses struggling from Cairns to the Gold Coast.

"Even without additional travel bans imposed, the uncertainty this kind of news introduces into the human mind is having an impact itself," he said. 

It comes as the University of Queensland pushes back start day for its 7000 Chinese students caught overseas until March 23. 

UQ faced a $140 million hit if all 7000 cancel studies, analysis by think tank the Centre for Independent Studies found.

And thirsty Diamond Princess passengers kept in quarantine at the Howard Springs workers camp have petitioned health staff for the right to drink during their coronavirus isolation.

The emergency plan lists the most at-risk groups as being the elderly, infants, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and those in remote communities. 



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