Personnel wearing protective suits wait near an entrance at the Cheung Hong Estate, a public housing estate, during evacuation of residents in Hong Kong. Picture: Kin Cheung/AP
Personnel wearing protective suits wait near an entrance at the Cheung Hong Estate, a public housing estate, during evacuation of residents in Hong Kong. Picture: Kin Cheung/AP

Five Australians have recovered from the coronavirus

Australia's Chief Medical Officer has once again called for calm over the coronavirus, saying there is "no reason" for people to wear masks and no evidence of the illness being transmitted in the community.

Speaking at a press conference in Canberra this afternoon alongside Health Minister Greg Hunt, Dr Murphy revealed five of the 15 people in Australia who were infected with the virus had recovered, with the other 10 now in stable condition.

"We've still only got 15 cases in Australia, and all are clinically in good condition. They're all in stable condition. Five have recovered," he said.

"This is consistent with the exported cases around the world, the 455 cases. There have been some severe cases in some countries, but they're very small numbers, and only two deaths in the exported cases. Which is a positive."

By comparison, more than 2 per cent of the confirmed cases in Hubei province, at the epicentre of the outbreak, have been fatal.

"So we are still evaluating the severity of this virus, and there's still a lot more information that we need to know," said Dr Murphy.

"But as the minister says, our strategies have been there. We've isolated the cases, all of whom had come from Hubei province, or in one case had contact with someone who was a confirmed case from Hubei province.

"We have not yet seen anyone without contact from Hubei province detected in Australia."



Health Minister Greg Hunt and Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy. Picture: Gary Ramage
Health Minister Greg Hunt and Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy. Picture: Gary Ramage

He urged Australians not to racially profile members of the Chinese community.

"Our risk population is people who have come from China from February 1. Not people of Chinese background. People who have come from China, whatever their background is. And we are very concerned about xenophobia and any sort of racial profiling, which is completely abhorrent," Dr Murphy said.

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"We're talking about a relatively small number of people, just because of where they've been, not who they are.

"There is no community transmission of this virus in Australia. We have not seen any case of sustained transmission at all in this country. There is no reason for people to be wearing masks. There's no reason for people to avoid anybody of any particular background or appearance.

"I want to reassure the community. Our quarantine is working extremely well at the moment, and we're very, very pleased that the two facilities have had excellent medical support, and we're obviously actively screening everybody on a regular basis."

Asked why the mortality rate was so much higher in China than in other countries, Dr Murphy offered two possible explanations.

"There are a number of factors. One could be that the disease has been present for a lot longer (there), and sometimes if deaths occur late in the course, you can see that," he said.

"The other very likely factor is that because of the sheer scale of the outbreak in Hubei province, there may well be a large number of cases that are mild and undetected. So the denominator may well be falsely low."

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In other words, the number of deaths per confirmed case in China may be artificially inflated because a large number of milder cases are going unreported.

"There may be more cases there than we know about. We just don't know the answer to that. But they're two potential explanations," he said.

Dr Murphy did stress that we have yet to reach the peak of the virus's spread.

"No, we're clearly getting growth every day," he said.

"The rate of growth potentially is a bit flat at the moment, but early to say. Because most of the data is just coming out of China. China, sometimes data can be a little bit patchy. So we've just got to watch that.

"But there doesn't seem to be quite the rate of growth in the last few days as before. But I wouldn't want to draw any conclusions from that."

The quarantine period for the first Australian coronavirus evacuees from China will expire next week, meaning they will be free to leave Christmas Island and go home.

Mr Hunt said the evacuees would face a final health check before leaving the island on Monday and Wednesday, after spending 14 days in quarantine.

"They will be able to go home subject to having a very clear process of having been checked and been declared disease-free," Mr Hunt said.

A total of 530 Australians have been evacuated from China following the virus outbreak, heading into quarantine on Christmas Island and a worker camp near Darwin.

One person on Christmas Island is currently being tested for suspected coronavirus but Mr Hunt said doctors had advised there was a low probability of the person actually returning a positive result.

The Diamond Princess cruise ship off Japan also has 229 Australians among its passengers, 11 of whom have been diagnosed with coronavirus and given medical treatment off the boat by Japanese authorities.

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The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is seeking to contact all of the passengers by email.

Worldwide there are 43,101 cases confirmed cases and 1018 have died.

- with AAP