By MAX TILLMAN
The Wuhan coronavirus has left its indelible mark on Sydney, with Chinese New Year celebrations and language classes grinding to a halt across the city as fears of infection take hold.
In a statement issued on 28 January, The Australian Chinese Community Association (ACCA) of New South Wales cited the need to ensure their language classes and Chinese new year festivities were ‘practiced in a safe environment.”
“As many of our clients and members are the elderly and young children (Chinese Language School students) it is therefore prudent that we take precautionary measures to minimise the risk our clients, members and staff are exposed to,” the statement said.
As part of the ACCA’s lockdown on events, The Chinese New Year lunch celebration scheduled for Wed 29 Jan was cancelled indefinitely, and classes at the association’s Chinese language school will be postponed until Sat 15 Feb.
“Based upon SARS, we initially thought that the coronavirus is spread during the symptoms phase,” said Professor William Rawlinson, senior medical virologist with New South Wales Health Pathology and professor at The University of New South Wales.
“But in fact, the spread can occur before symptoms and in what we call the pre-symptomatic period. So somebody who’s not got a fever and not got a cough can still spread the virus.”
School’s Out Until Virus Contained
The move follows efforts by both The University of Sydney and The University of New South Wales to mitigate the risk of returning students from China potentially furthering the spread of the deadly virus.
As The Australian Government chose to restrict flights from mainland China from 1 Feb, The University of Sydney’s Vice-Chancellor Dr. Michael Spence wrote to all incoming students from China.
‘While the risk in Australia remains low, we are protecting the health of staff and students by taking extra precautions such as provision of hand sanitisers, additional cleaning protocols and information posters which you will begin to see around campus.’
A close relative of the SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome), which spread to over 25 countries and killed 774 people in the span of a few months in 2003, the Wuhan novel coronavirus -or 2019-nCov- is a health crisis that is ‘evolving rapidly’, according to NSW Health officials.
Globally, the majority of cases are affecting those in China’s central Hubei province, with NSW Health citing the fact that there is “much to learn about how the virus is spread, its severity, and other features.”
As of the 4 Feb, there are four confirmed cases of the coronavirus in New South Wales, with a further 29 currently under investigation.
Christmas Island flights
The Australian Government has already flown 243 citizens and Australian permanent residents, including 89 children, directly from China to Christmas Island for a two-week quarantine period as governments around the world work to stem the spread of the virus. A second flight is also scheduled for later in the week.
“This is standard for an outbreak like this where we really don’t know a lot of things about the virus,” said Professor William Rawlinson. “We do have some ideas and we can frame our responses better, and I think I think in many ways people are better informed than they were during the SARS outbreak.”
Health officials are confident that despite the global panic, the Wuhan coronavirus has little chance of evolving into a more infectious, and indeed more lethal virus.
“Usually viruses don’t learn to become more lethal,” Professor Rawlinson said. “We haven’t seen that kind of evolution towards either more lethality or towards a greater spread.”