Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Novel Coronavirus Outbreak

A new coronavirus – from the same group of viruses responsible for the 2003 outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) – has been identified as the cause of an increasing number of illnesses and deaths in several countries.

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A second case of the novel coronavirus in France was confirmed as the result of patient-to-patient transmission within a French hospital. The news has prompted some to speculate whether coronavirus will be behind the next global pandemic.

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Professor Charles Watson is a John Curtin Distinguished Professor of Health Science at Curtin University in Western Australia

“There have been over 30 cases of infection by a novel coronavirus in the past few months, most in Saudi Arabia, where over half of those infected have died. The good news is that each of the clusters of infection in the Middle East and in Europe has been small, indicating that the infection is not easily passed from one person to another.

This new virus belongs to the same family as the SARS virus, but it is definitely different from the SARS virus. SARS caused about 8000 cases world-wide in 2003 and the death rate was 10%.

There is no special risk to Australia, but those who travel in the Arabian Peninsula should be vigilant about personal hygiene and avoid contact with people who have a respiratory illness. If they develop a cough or shortness of breath they should seek medical assistance.

My main concern would be with the Hajj in mid-October this year, when about 2 million Muslims visit Saudi Arabia for the great pilgrimage. If the number of...

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