A leading virologist says it’s likely all Australians will eventually contract the deadly coronavirus as the outbreak continues to rapidly spike outside of mainland China.
University of Queensland professor Ian Mackay told The Australian the virus is likely to be “with us for life”.
“It doesn’t look like that virus is ever going to go back in its box,” he said.
“If that’s the case, at some point in the coming months or years we’re all going to get infected.”
Australia on Thursday took the landmark step of treating the virus a “global pandemic” as Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the nation’s emergency response has now been enacted.
Health ministers will meet on Friday to discuss how Australia will tackle an impending outbreak.
Professor Mackay said while there will be a “big impact” and the hospitalisation of people, the virus could behave like a severe cold.
He said that young people don’t seem to get the most severe form of the virus and it’s mostly been deadly for people aged in their 80s.
“So it might just tick over a bit like flu does now, harshly affecting the elderly more so than the rest of us, but still causing coughs and colds and perhaps putting people in hospital in numbers that we’re really not clear about yet.”
Virus spreading quicker outside of China than in
For the first time since the virus was identified, there are more new cases being found outside China than inside the country, prompting a stark warning from the World Health Organisation.
"We're at a decisive point," WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a press conference in Geneva.
"If you act aggressively now, you can contain this virus, you can prevent people getting sick, you can save lives."
Saudi Arabia banned pilgrims from visiting Islam's holiest sites as the number of deaths jumped in neighbouring Iran, while Japan and Iraq ordered the closure of schools.
Alarm is growing as China is no longer the only breeding ground for COVID-19, with other countries including South Korea and Italy becoming hotbeds of infection, raising fears of a pandemic.
The virus has already killed more than 2,760 people, mostly in China – where it first emerged in December – and infected more than 81,000 in over 45 countries.
There are rising fears that poor countries with weak health infrastructures would not be able to cope with the virus.
‘Inevitable’ every country will suffer outbreak
Leading coronavirus expert Professor Gabriel Leung from the University of Hong Kong said it was “inevitable” all countries will be hit by the virus.
“The rest of the world is now going to experience the first wave,” he said, questioning whether other nations should implement similar extreme lockdowns to the ones China has in place.
Tedros said an immediate response from the rest of the world was vital.
"It's what's happening in the rest of the world that's now our greatest concern," Tedros said.
"We are actually in a very delicate situation in which the outbreak can go in any direction based on how we handle it."
Iran reported seven new deaths over 24 hours, taking the overall toll to 26, the highest outside China.
The first cases in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Estonia involved people who had been in Iran.
China itself – which sealed off an entire province and shut down cities across the country – is now worried about importing cases and ordered people arriving in Beijing from affected countries to go into 14-day self-quarantine.
China confirmed its first imported case after a person returned from a trip to Iran.
The nation reported 29 more deaths on Thursday, its lowest daily tally since January, and 433 new cases.
Donald Trump has played down fears of a major outbreak in the US, the world's largest economy.
"I think that there's a chance that it could get worse, a chance it could get fairly substantially worse, but nothing's inevitable," President Trump told reporters Wednesday.
US public health officials confirmed a coronavirus case in California, the first of unknown origin out of about 60 cases, and have told Americans to be ready to cancel mass gatherings and work from home.
With AFP and AAP
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