Expert warns ‘everyone’ will get coronavirus
A TOP virologist has reportedly issued a stark warning - everyone is set to get the coronavirus.
University of Queensland professor Ian Mackay said COVID-19 was not going away and that it would be unlikely to be contained.
"It doesn't look like this virus is ever going to go back in its box," Professor Mackay told The Australian. "And so we're likely to have the virus become what we call an endemic virus, or a virus that's just with us for life.
"We already have four of these coronaviruses, mostly causing colds. We get them every year. They peak during winter but they still move around between us during the rest of the year as well. So it's likely this might become one of those," he said.
"At some point in the coming months or years we're all going to get infected because we've all been infected by these other endemic viruses".
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has warned that a "global pandemic is very much upon us".
He has moved ahead of the rest of the world by activating a pandemic plan.
SICK POPE CANCELS EVENT
Pope Francis has cancelled his attendance at a Mass, as Italy is hit hard by the coronavirus outbreak.
The Vatican has not been clear about the nature of his illness, but he had been struggling during Ash Wednesday services earlier this week.
The coronavirus outbreak has been mainly in the north of the country, but there were three cases in Rome.
The Pope, 83, had offered his thoughts and prayers to those who had contracted the virus, and the medical teams helping them.
"I wish, again, to express my closeness to those who are ill with coronavirus and to healthcare workers who are caring for them," he said during an audience in St Peter's Square on Wednesday local time.
He was seen kissing and hugging members of the public this week, despite the virus fears in Italy.
The Vatican said that the Pope's illness was a "slight indisposition".
He continued with some of his planned work on Thursday local time but had wanted to avoid travelling.
There have been more than 400 cases of coronavirus in Italy.
Francis had been scheduled to go to the St John Lateran Basilica to meet with Rome clergy and celebrate a penitential Mass at the start of Lent. Francis is bishop of Rome, but delegates the day-to-day running of the archdiocese to a vicar.
The Argentine pope has generally enjoyed good health. He lost part of one lung as a young man because of a respiratory illness, and suffers from sciatica, which makes walking difficult.
IRAN VP HAS CORONAVIRUS
Masoumeh Ebtekar, an Iranian vice president who is better known as the infamous "Screaming Mary" during the 1979 US hostage crisis, has been diagnosed with the coronavirus, according to reports.
Ms Ebtekar, the vice president for women and family affairs, was sitting near President Hassan Rouhani during a cabinet meeting on Wednesday, according to the UK's Standard, which cited a BBC correspondent.
Reports about her illness come two days after Iraj Harirchi, the official who was tasked with tackling the outbreak in Iran, also tested positive. He had been seen sweating profusely at a news conference about the virus.
Ms Ebtekar gained infamy as "Screaming Mary" when she served as the English-speaking mouthpiece of the hostage-takers who seized the US Embassy in Tehran in 1979, sparking the 444-day diplomatic crisis.
During her propagandising, she would walk through the embassy and urge the 52 hostages to describe their ordeal to a camera crew in positive terms, according to a report in The Atlantic.
"You have been treated well, haven't you," she asked repeatedly.
One of the hostages, US Army Sgt. Regis Regan became so fed up with her that he unleashed a diatribe, which led to a beating, the news outlet reported.
Another hostage, Michael Metrinko, hated her so much for her televised rants that he said: "If she were on fire on the street, I wouldn't piss on her to put it out."
STUDENTS TOLD 'WALK QUICKLY' TO CONTAIN CORONAVIRUS
Government guidelines are telling quarantined Chinese students to "walk quickly" past members of the public under loose rules that could potentially spread the deadly coronavirus.
Hundreds of Chinese Year 11 and 12 school students hosted by Aussie families are expected to arrive in Australia shortly to continue their studies but they will have to be in home isolation for 14 days after arriving from China.
The students will be living in the same household as Australian families who are allowed out into the community to go to work and to school every day - even though they are cohabiting with someone who potentially has the coronavirus.
The slack quarantine rules recommend the Chinese student stays in their own room and to "walk quickly "if they have to cross commonly used spaces in the hosts home.
If possible they should use their own bathroom but this is not compulsory.
"If the student lives in an apartment it is also safe for them to go outside into the garden while wearing a surgical mask. They should, however, go quickly through any common areas on the way to the garden. They should wear a surgical mask if they have to move through these areas," the guidelines said.
State and federal governments last week agreed to lift the travel ban to allow Chinese students enrolled in Year 11 and 12 courses in Australia into the country because of strict rules that require them to physically attend school to gain their qualification.
Students from Hubei province in China, the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak, will not be allowed into Australia under the relaxation of the rule.
Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan estimated around 760 Chinese students could be allowed into Australia if they met strict criteria including being tested for the virus before they left China and again when they arrived here.
They must then undergo home isolation for 14 days before being allowed to attend school.
Victoria's Education Minister James Merlino has said there are 389 Chinese students enrolled in the state's VCE that could come to Australia as a result of the rule change.
In New South Wales the number is around 153 and other state and territories have a smaller number.
Victorian Government quarantine rules state the families that host these students do not have to quarantine themselves from the community nor do they even have to wear a mask while in the community.
"Other members of the household are not required to be isolated unless they have also travelled to mainland China in the past 14 days, or have been in close contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19. Other members of the household do not need to wear a mask at any time," the guidelines issued by Victoria's Department of Health state.
Federal Department of Health guidelines for students say students in isolation only need to wear a mask when they develop symptoms of the virus and when this happens should try to use a separate bathroom.
"Do not see visitors. Where possible, ask others such as friends or family, who are not required to be isolated, to get food or other necessities," the federal guidelines state.
Griffith University Infectious diseases exert Paul Van Buynder said the guidelines were working on the principle that the virus was only transmitted once a person began displaying symptoms.
"It's totally dependent on how well we are monitoring them," he said.
"If they can't transmit until they have symptoms it is safe."
JAPAN TO CLOSE SCHOOLS NATIONWIDE
Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has announced he asked all elementary, middle and high schools in the country to remain shut until spring holidays begin in late March.
The measure affects 12.8 million students at 34,847 schools nationwide, the education ministry said.
"The coming week or two is an extremely important time," Abe said.
"This is to prioritise the health and safety of the children and take precautions to avoid the risk of possible large-scale infections for many children and teachers who gather and spend hours together every day."
The decision comes amid growing concern about the rise in the number of untraceable cases of the virus in northern Japan and elsewhere.
Japan now has more than 890 cases, including 705 from a quarantined cruise ship.
An eighth death from the virus was confirmed on Thursday.
Abe's announcement came hours after several local governments announced their own decisions to suspend classes.
Officials in the northernmost main island of Hokkaido said they were closing all 1600 elementary and middle schools.
Hokkaido now has 54 confirmed cases, the largest in the country outside the cruise ship.
Meanwhile, a tour guide in Japan who was recently released from a hospital after recovering from the coronavirus has tested positive again, according to reports.
The Osaka woman, in her 40s, was working on a bus with tourists from the Chinese epicenter city of Wuhan when she was confirmed to be infected with the illness on January 29, according to Agence France-Presse.
The bus driver also was diagnosed with the deadly disease.
The woman was discharged from the hospital on February 1 and tested negative for the virus five days later, though she still had a cough that went away a week later.
But on February 21, she returned to the doctor because of a sore throat and chest pain - and tested positive again on Wednesday.
An official in Osaka said the case is the first of a person testing positive for COVID-19 in Japan after apparently being cleared of it.
Cases of second positive tests have already been reported in China, according to Reuters.
CORONAVIRUS SPREAD OUTPACING SARS, EBOLA
A NEW animation reveals the frightening pace of deadly coronavirus - which has outpaced the SARS, MERS and Ebola outbreaks.
The video compares the new virus with other diseases to show how quickly each spread after cases were first reported.
It shows that initially, the Covid-19 outbreak was slower than Ebola, swine flu and SARS - which is also a type of coronavirus.
However, 41 days into each respective outbreak, Ebola had infected 243 people, 520 had been sickened with swine flu and 3,600 had SARS.
By comparison, the new coronavirus outbreak had more than 41,700 cases worldwide by Day 41.
The animation, created by production company Abacada, was uploaded to YouTube on February 12.
Since then Covid-19 cases have risen to more than 82,000 globally with 2,800 people dying from the illness.
UK HOSPITAL STAFF TOLD TO SHAVE OFF BEARDS
NHS staff in the UK have been ordered to shave off their beards to help limit the spread of deadly coronavirus.
Hospital bosses have warned workers that facial hair can render face masks ineffective against the bug.
An email sent to staff at Southampton General Hospital urged fellas with a beard or moustache to get rid.
Medical director Derek Sandeman, who drafted the diktat, attached a graphic showing 36 styles of facial fuzz.
Small growths that can fit under a mask, such as Hitler-style tach, the "soul patch" and "Zappa goatee" are marked as acceptable.
But those with a bushier look, such as "mutton chops", the "Van Dyke" or "full beards" are told to shave.
People that grow a beard for religious or cultural reasons are exempted from the rules.
The memo states: "You will see that the presence of facial hair compromises the ability to protect any individual through a mask.
"I am writing to ask those who do not have a strong cultural or religious reason for a beard and who are working in at risk areas to consider shaving.
"I recognise for some this is a big ask, that beards are so popular at present. However I do believe this is the right thing to do."
The email says there have not been any cases of coronavirus locally but the hospital is seeing suspected cases.
PANIC IN ITALY AS VIRUS SPREADS
Italy has been forced to cancel surgeries as its hospitals face an onslaught of coronavirus patients, days after the country became the European epicentre of the deadly disease.
In an exclusive interview with Newscorp Australia, hospital worker Silvia Agostini, 58, spoke of the panic in Italy when the country's three coronavirus cases exploded to more than 300 in just a few days. The virus has also killed 12 people (as at Thursday evening).
"The first two suspected cases in my hospital got us into a panic but now we are more organised," she said.
"At the moment scheduled surgeries are suspended in order to have available beds for the emergency."
Ms Agostini has worked as a hospital lab technician for 36 years but admitted she hasn't seen anything like coronavirus.
Working across Lecco Hospital and the smaller Merate Hospital, both an hour north of Milan, Ms Agostini said the lab team were on call 24 hours a day in case of further outbreaks.
Lecco Hospital has also created an isolated section where coronavirus patients can be quarantined.
Ms Agostini said the hospital is closely watching a 17-year-old student who was admitted earlier this week with coronavirus.
"He has a high temperature but he doesn't have breathing issues," she said.
While Ms Agostini works in an isolated lab, away from the risk of infection, she said the workers who were analysing swabs were working under air extraction machines to limit the possibility of getting sick.
Any Italian who starts to feel unwell is visited by health officials at home.
Ms Agostini's hometown is not yet a "red zone", regions where the number of infected people is high and the first cases were detected.
The two "red zones" in the north of Italy are patrolled by police and locals are restricted to their houses, only allowed out to go to the grocery store or chemist.
"Me and my family live in the 'yellow area' where the government ordered schools, cinemas, museums and libraries to close for a week," Ms Agostini said.
"They've asked us to reduce our social life just to prevent the contamination."
Ms Agostini said she and her family were staying positive but the speed at which Italy was hit by coronavirus was cause for concern.
"In Italy we are worried because we don't know how the first positive patient got the COVID-19," she said.
"He didn't go in Asia and he hadn't had contact with people coming from China.
"The virus isn't lethal if treated in time, so far the people who have died have been old aged or with other (immune problems), but it is really contagious and for this reason we need to contain the spread of the virus."
After Italy saw its confirmed cases of coronavirus jump from three to more than 300 in just a few days, the country briefly went into a panic.
Ms Agostini said the rapid jump "created alarmism" and people emptied the supermarkets "because they were scared".
As Italy works to contain the virus, the country has also brought in a number of new restrictions.
The hospitals have brought in restricted entry times and locals are only allowed to go into visit retirement homes if a relative is dying there.
"All these people are very frail," Ms Agostini said.
"Italy was one of the first countries in Europe that blocked the flights from China, but now we are the first country in Europe with cases of coronavirus … but we have to be positive and hope to solve this problem early. I'm confident in our health system."
TOP HEALTH EXECUTIVE RETIRES AMID CRISIS
Australia's top health executive retires on Friday in the midst of one of the nation's worst medical crisis leaving the department with an acting boss.
Glenys Beauchamp announced her retirement earlier this year and Health Minister Greg Hunt said Chief Medical Officer Professor Brendan Murphy would be replacing her.
But Mr Hunt's office told News Corp because of the ongoing spread of coronavirus Professor Murphy will delay taking up his new job and focus on his current job as Chief Medical Officer.
Instead Caroline Edwards will be brought across from the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet to act as Health Department Secretary.
Ms Edwards studied law and worked in Aboriginal legal aid and mediated native title cases for the Federal Court before becoming Deputy Secretary of the Department of Human Services in 2016 and was in charge of Medicare and Pharmaceutical Benefit Scheme payments.
In November 2017 she became one of the Deputy Secretaries of the Health Department in charge of primary care, mental health and health system reform.
She is currently deputy secretary of the department of Prime Minister and Cabinet and is in charge of social policy.
AUSTRALIA'S EMERGENCY PLAN ACTIVATED
Prime Minister Scott Morrison confirmed on Thursday the Biosecurity Act 2015 was now in force, giving officials emergency powers to isolate people, make them undergo decontamination processes, and ban them from getting on planes or ships.
While the extreme measures would only be used in the event of a major outbreak of the disease, they confer enormous powers on officials to obtain human biosecurity control orders, and can only be overturned by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.
While coronavirus is currently contained in Australia, the Government moved onto a pandemic footing, formally activating its pandemic plan to ramp up preparations ahead of an almost inevitable outbreak.
"The position in relation to quarantine powers actually came with the activation of the Biosecurity Act and the Chief Medical Officer's declaration on January 21,'' Mr Morrison said.
As well as requiring individuals to remain at their homes, the Act empowers officials to ban individuals from visiting specific places, such as those with large crowds.
Sick individuals can be required to wear specific "clothing and equipment'' to prevent the spread of a disease, and can also be required to go through a decontamination process, along with their clothing and possessions.
They can also be required to attend specific medical facilities, undergo treatment, and provide samples for diagnosis.
"An individual may be required by a human biosecurity control order to receive, at a specified medical facility: a specified vaccination; or a specified form of treatment; in order to manage the listed human disease specified in the order, and any other listed human disease,'' the Act says.
With new cases of the virus erupting across the globe from Africa to South America and across Europe, work on Thursday began across Australia's aged care facilities and hospitals to audit medical stockpiles, plan to operate at surge capacity, and plan fever clinics and isolation wards.
The ban on people arriving from mainland China was extended for another week.
Mr Morrison also tasked the Border Force with looking at ways to monitor the health of passengers arriving on every flight into Australia, while Health Minister Greg Hunt will meet the states and territory health ministers on Friday to discuss the nation's preparedness.
"Based on the expert medical advice we have received, there is every indication that the world will soon enter a pandemic phase of the coronavirus,'' the Prime Minister said.
"While the WHO is yet to declare the nature of the coronavirus and its move towards a pandemic phase, we believe the risk of a global pandemic is very much upon us.''
Education ministers will also meet to ensure schools are prepared in case a major outbreak occurred.
Mr Morrison urged calm, saying there was no need for people to change their behaviours.
He said people should continue to "go to the football and the cricket, and play with your friends down the street, you can go to the concert and you can go out for a Chinese meal.''
A group of Australia's top scientists took time out from developing a cure for coronavirus to enjoy a meal together and show support for Melbourne's Chinatown on Wednesday evening.
Led by Nobel prize laureate Peter Doherty and Doherty Institute director Sharon Lewin, Doherty Institute virologists gathered at the Shark Fin Inn to dispel misinformation about the virus and encourage others to go out and enjoy a meal.
"Everyone should get down to Chinatown and enjoy Chinese food, just like we have always done,'' Prof. Lewin said.
Mr Morrison also indicated the Treasury was looking at potential assistance for some parts of the economy hit hard by the virus.
"The advice is if we are to take any actions here … any such measures would only be effective if they were targeted and modest and scalable,'' he said, nominating the travel and education sectors as being hit hardest.
"There are some challenging months ahead and the government will continue to work closely based on the best possible medical advice to keep Australians safe.''