One of the curious thing to come out of the Australian news conference about school advice with regards to coronavirus, is that speakers reiterated that there hasn’t been person-to-person transmission of the virus in Australia.
“There is no evidence,” said the NSW chief health officer, Kerry Chant.
Yesterday the federal health minister also said there was no human-to-human transmission in Australia.
It does seem difficult to see why the virus would behave differently in Australia, given the Chinese health authorities have said that transmission is through “respiratory droplets” (coughing) and touch.
I’m assuming the ministers mean there has been no evidence so far of human-to-human transmission in Australia.
The NSW education minister Sarah Mitchell was also at the press conference regarding change of advice for children returning after the long summer break. She said it is the right decision: “We know that many in the community have been wanting to see this. I think it is important we are taking this precautionary measure in line with community sentiment but also knowing we are doing everything we can even though the risk is low, to ensure the safety in that school environment,” she said.
Whether to allow children to return to school has been the subject of considerable controversy in Australia over the past few days. On Monday, a number of Sydney private schools issued much stricter restrictions on children who had been in China returning to school. As of yesterday afternoon, one asked that any children who had travelled to China in the holidays remain at home for 14 days after they returned, and do not return to school without a medical certificate.
The decision is particularly controversial in Australia as only this morning the federal education minister, Dan Tehan, chastising schools for telling students to stay away.
The exclusion period announced in Australia for school children is for 14 days since returning to the country. So if NSW school students arrived back in Australia in mid-January, they would be able to start school this week if the 14-day period had passed.
At the new conference, Hazzard was asked if it was compulsory for children who had travelled in China to keep their children home from school until the 14-day incubation period had passed, and essentially the answer was that it is a request and they hope people will comply.
Australian state changes medical advice on returning to school
In Australia the New South Wales government has announced that it is changing its advice with regards to parents sending their children back to school after the long summer break.
Children who have returned from China in the past two weeks have been asked to stay home from school.
“This is one of the most difficult decisions I have made,” said the NSW health minister, Brad Hazzard.
“We have decided that New South Wales is the epicentre of what’s occurring,” he said.
“We apologise to parents who may find themselves in this situation.”
The decision will apply to teachers and students in the NSW health system as well.
Japan to send charter flight to Wuhan to get citizens out
Japan’s government will send a chartered flight to Wuhan on Tuesday night to evacuate its nationals wishing to return home, according to the Reuters news agency.
The country’s foreign minister, Toshimitsu Motegi, told reporters the flight could carry around 200 passengers, but added about 650 Japanese citizens are hoping to come back to Japan.
Motegi said the government is making arrangements for additional flights that will leave for Wuhan as early as Wednesday.
We reported earlier that the National Health Commission had issued new figures for deaths and infections, including 4,515 confirmed cases of the virus. State media is reporting that 976 – or just over 20% of cases – are patients in a critical condition. It also says there are 6,973 suspected cases in China. China Global TV Network published a map of infections in China (in which it includes Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan).
The streets of Wuhan are still largely empty says the New York Times’ reporter Chris Buckley.
With millions largely confined to their homes because of the coronavirus in China, social media is awash with novel ways to stave off boredom – from indoor fishing to singing challenges, as our correspondent Michael Standaert reports.
The Philippines has suspended its usual practice of issuing visas upon arrival (VUA) to Chinese visitors in an effort to contain the spread of the virus.
The bureau of immigration commissioner Jaime Morente said in a statement:
“The Civil Aeronautics Board has already suspended direct flights from Wuhan province,” said Morente. “We are now temporarily suspending the issuance of VUA for Chinese nationals to slow down the influx of group tours,” he added.
The VUA facility is often used by groups of Chinese tourists but Morente emphasised that Chinese visitors were not barred from the Philippines, but would be subject to checks for the virus. China accounts for around 20% of tourist visits to the Philippines.
“We have not received any directive imposing policy changes on Chinese nationals,” said Morente. “But we are taking this proactive measure to slow down travel, and possibly help prevent the entry of the 2019-nCov,” he stated.
Scott Morrison, the Australian prime minister, has just been been speaking about the virus and its impact on Australian in China and at home, where there have been five confirmed cases.
He said the cabinet’s national security committee met yesterday to discuss the threat posed by the virus and would continue to meet every few days.
Australia is working with the Chinese government to deploy consular officials into Hubei province and into Wuhan. “This is essential to assist us as we then consider the further options of support that we can provide to Australian citizens who are in Wuhan and in Hubei Province more broadly,” he said amid growing calls for Australia to follow the example of the US and Japan and evacuate its citizens from the virus epicentre.
The virus sent Australia’s stock market tumbling today. Read all about it, and the potentially negative impact on tourism, with this report from our business writer Ben Butler:
China infections rise over 4,500
With regards to the number of infections, it seems the figure issued just over an hour ago of 4,193 cases in China has been updated to 4,515, according to the state-run Global Times. According to CGTN, this includes 8 in Hong Kong, 7 in Macao and 5 in Taiwan.
The death toll remains 106.