Widespread coronavirus transmission may be 'almost impossible to prevent' in Australia

Tom Flanagan
News Reporter

The government has warned it is “almost impossible” to prevent widespread transmission across Australia if the coronavirus outbreak continues to spread globally.

There have been 22 confirmed cases across the nation, yet there are fears the number will grow as a surge of cases occurred in several nations other than China, which homes the virus’ epicentre in Wuhan, Hubei.

“If a global pandemic develops, it would be almost impossible to prevent widespread community transmission in Australia,” the Department of Health said on Monday.

A concerned passenger at Sydney Airport. Source: AAP

And while the World Health Organisation has been reluctant to declare the outbreak, which has now killed more than 2700, a pandemic, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said it must now be considered.

WHO advisor Marion Koopmans, a professor of viroscience at Erasmus University in the Netherlands, also said the outbreak is “rapidly becoming the first true pandemic challenge that fits the disease X category”.

She highlighted the continuing levels of air travel as a “daunting” concern.

In a bold move on February 1, Australia banned the travel of anyone travelling from China. Anyone wanting to enter Australia must spend 14 days in another country before being allowed to enter.

Yet with a spike of cases abroad, notably in Italy, South Korea and Iran, the likelihood of preventing the virus from spreading further in Australia continues to diminish with thousands of international passengers arriving in Australia daily.

Chinese travellers are circumnavigating the travel ban by spending two weeks in other countries. Source: AAP

Experts have also said a major outbreak in the US is inevitable, with the mayor of San Fransisco declaring a state of emergency for the city.

Fifty-seven of the 80,421 confirmed cases are in the US.

Lack of symptoms major concern

Experts have also expressed concerns over people’s ability to contract the virus however not display any symptoms.

“It seems that the virus can pass from person to person without symptoms, making it extremely difficult to track, regardless of what health authorities do,” Dr Simon Clarke, a cellular microbiology specialist at the University of Reading, said.

“While it remains the case that most people who become infected will have light symptoms or none at all, such uncontrollable spread would present a serious risk to vulnerable individuals.”

Australia's population is at risk of facing a coronavirus pandemic. Source: Getty, file.

The government recently outlined its emergency plan in response to the outbreak, saying further spread would test the nation’s health system.

“A significant local outbreak of COVID-19 would place very substantial pressure on the health system,” the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee said.

“It has the potential to cause high levels of morbidity and mortality and to disrupt our community socially and economically.”

The AHPPC said further planning and preparation is needed from the health system to ensure Australia can cope with a potential pandemic.

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