Coronavirus update: Northern Territory confirms first case, Facebook pledges to stop the flow of misinformation
Woolworths has put limits on toilet paper purchases to curb panic-buying, as new cases of coronavirus — including an aged care worker infected through person-to-person transmission — are recorded in Australia.
Australian shares have fallen sharply after a volatile session on Wall Street, and while the new GDP figures were better than expected, they don’t reflect the coronavirus crisis.
This story is no longer being updated. For the latest coronavirus news and updates follow this story.
Wednesday’s key moments
- Australian aged care worker infected after person-to-person transmission
- Fifth case confirmed in South Australia
- Northern Territory confirms first case
- Man who tested positive visited Tasmanian supermarket before self-isolating
- Limits placed on toilet paper purchases amid ‘panic buying’
- #toiletpapergate explained
- New restrictions for people who have arrived in Australia from Iran
- WHO says 3.4 per cent of people with COVID-19 have died
- Some good news out of China and the Vatican
Iran deaths jump to 92
Iran has reported 92 deaths among its 2,922 confirmed cases, the most of any country except China.
Iran’s military and firefighters have joined efforts to battle the new coronavirus in the Islamic Republic.
Iran’s state TV on Wednesday showed army trucks and fire engines as well as soldiers and firefighters spraying disinfectants on streets in several cities.
The Italian Government has decided to close schools and universities across the country until mid-March in a further attempt to contain the worst coronavirus outbreak in Europe, Ansa news agency reported.
The Government shuttered schools and universities in the worst-affected regions in northern Italy 10 days ago and quarantined a handful of towns at the epicentre of the outbreak.
However, the contagion has spread, with at least 79 people dying and more than 2,500 infected.
The Louvre Museum in France is open again after employees worried about catching the coronavirus agreed to return to work.
The Paris museum where Leonardo da Vinci’s iconic painting hangs had been closed since Sunday.
Louvre staff members voted overwhelmingly on Wednesday to resume work and the Louvre opened its doors in the afternoon (local time).
Management presented a raft of new anti-virus measures to try to coax employees back to work.
Among them: wider distributions of disinfectant gels and more frequent staff rotations so employees have time to wash their hands.
Another six cases of coronavirus have been confirmed across Sydney, bringing the total number of cases in New South Wales to 22.
The new cases include an elderly woman at a nursing home in Macquarie Park, a female patient from the Northern Beaches and a female doctor who works at Liverpool Hospital.
A male from Cronulla and a female, who is believed to have returned from the Philippines, also tested positive yesterday evening.
A 52-year-old tourist has become the Northern Territory’s first confirmed case of COVID-19.
The tourist only recently travelled to Darwin from Sydney and has had limited contact with the local community, NT Health says.
The person is currently in isolation and authorities have started contact tracing.
NT Health said on their Facebook page that they’d have more details on Thursday morning.
Changes to Olympic Torch Relay to prevent coronavirus spread
It sounds like the Tokyo Olympics are going ahead, and that includes one event where a lot of people all touch the same object — the Torch Relay.
Organisers are expected to take precautions to prevent the spread of coronavirus at the event, with runners, staff and spectators to think about.
Reuters reports that any runners or spectators who are feeling unwell have been asked to sit out of the event, and the organising committee are set to monitor the health of participants with health and temperature checks.
The torch-lighting ceremony is set to take place in Greece next week, but receptions have been axed and organisers are set to limit crowd numbers.
The dress rehearsal, scheduled for the day before the ceremony, will be held without spectators.
Some facts and figures
According to Johns Hopkins’ latest data, updated this evening:
- There have been 94,225 confirmed cases globally
- More than 80,000 of those are in China
- South Korea has the next-highest number of cases, followed by Iran and Italy
- The global death toll is almost 3,200
- Over 50,000 people have recovered from the virus
Australian Health Minister Greg Hunt also provided these numbers at a press conference earlier:
- Australia has recorded 41 cases of the coronavirus
The virus has now spread to 78 countries
First coronavirus death reported in Iraq
Iraq has reported its first death from coronavirus, according to Reuters.
The local health department said an elderly man died in the Kurdish province of Sulaimaniya.
The country has recorded 31 coronavirus cases so far — 30 of which were Iraqis who had all visited Iran recently, and an Iranian student who has since been sent home.
Kids and coronavirus
Are your little ones starting to ask questions about coronavirus?
Sometimes they can be tricky to answer — especially if you don’t want to overwhelm or scare them.
Brisbane psychologist Christine Bagley-Jones has shared these tips for talking to your kids about coronavirus:
- Assess what they know already — so you know where to start
- Don’t dismiss or minimise your child’s fear — validate their concerns
- Make your explanation age-appropriate, provide facts and keep it positive — like that scientists and doctors are working on treatments and the risk of getting coronavirus is low
- Give them some control — teach the importance of handwashing and covering your mouth when you cough or sneeze
- Make it an opportunity to learn — talk about how our bodies fight viruses or fact-check what they’ve heard at school
- Keep checking in — see if they need reassurance or if they have any new questions
Free Facebook ads for WHO
Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg has announced that the social media platform will give the World Health Organisation free advertising to help prevent misinformation.
Zuckerberg made the announcement in a Facebook post, explaining that if you search coronavirus on Facebook, you’ll see a pop-up that directs you to a credible source like the WHO or local health authorities for information.
“We’re focused on making sure everyone can access credible and accurate information,” the post reads.
“This is critical in any emergency, but it’s especially important when there are precautions you can take to reduce the risk of infection.”
He also pledged that the company would remove false claims and conspiracy theories flagged by leading global health organisations.
“We’re also focused on stopping hoaxes and harmful misinformation,” he wrote.
“It’s important that everyone has a place to share their experiences and talk about the outbreak, but as our community standards make clear, it’s not okay to share something that puts people in danger.”
A fifth person has tested positive for coronavirus in South Australia, this time a 24-year-old woman.
She’ll be admitted to hospital this evening.
SA Health says the woman is not believed to be related to the 40-year-old woman who also tested positive earlier — they had both had recently returned to the state from overseas.
The older woman has a young baby, and SA Health’s chief public health officer Nicola Spurrier said it was important for the baby to also be tested.
“We need to be thinking about both the care of the mother and also her infant,” she said.
Virus spreads to more countries
Poland has confirmed its first case of coronavirus.
Health Minister Lukasz Szumowski said the man is in “good” condition, and is in hospital.
There are now almost 80 countries who have reported confirmed cases of coronavirus, with the international death toll inching closer to 3,200.
Quick update from Brisbane
Authorities confirmed a 20-year-old University of Queensland student had tested positive for coronavirus on Tuesday — he’s still in hospital in isolation.
His housemate was feeling fine but was also taken to hospital for tests.
Luckily, those tests have come back negative.
The housemate is now allowed to head home but has to self-quarantine for two weeks.
Talk about sharehouse nightmares.
There has been a lot of information to process as the coronavirus situation continues to unfold around the world — so why are Aussies so focussed on toilet paper?
Supermarket shelves around the country have been stripped bare, with Woolies even putting a limit on how much customers can buy in one transaction.
Some people are even listing packets or single rolls for hundreds of dollars on Facebook Marketplace and Gumtree.
Tweet @GlennCoddingtonIt’s now a tourist attraction. The great Sydney toilet paper evacuation
Experts say there were two main reasons supermarkets are all running so low on toilet paper.
Firstly, the packets are big and bulky, so many supermarkets won’t stockpile heaps of toilet paper on site.
“If just half a dozen or a dozen people buy extra packets, suddenly the demand lifts very quickly and it’s hard to keep that stock on the shelf,” QUT professor and retail expert Gary Mortimer says.
Secondly, there have been reports in other countries about toilet paper shortages (there’s nothing to suggest that will happen in Australia).
“Consumers are watching what is happening around the world with the coronavirus, and we are taking psychological cues and signals from these other international markets,” Macquarie University associate professor of marketing Jana Bowden says.
Dr Bowden says most of Australia’s toilet paper is made in South Australia, so there probably wouldn’t be an issue if people weren’t hoarding it.
“From a supply perspective, it’s completely irrational,” she says.
“It is easy to go to the supermarket, see other people buying it, and feel like you have to have it. But just have the basic necessities. There’s no need to stockpile.”
Authorities looking at ways to scale up Australian testing capabilities
There’s been more than 10,000 tests for coronavirus done in Australia so far.
Now, chief medical officer Brendan Murphy says there are plans to “scale up” testing capabilities around the country, 7.30 reports.
Coronavirus tests in Australia only take place in public health laboratories at the moment, but Professor Murphy says private labs might start testing to ease the burden.
“These are government-run laboratories in every state and territory and they established the test,” he said.
“We didn’t want them being done in a lot of private labs initially, because we wanted to make sure the tests were working well [and were] in our hands.
“But we are now in advanced planning with the pathology sector to work out how we can scale up … because the public health laboratories will reach a capacity point.”
Airlines attempt to win passengers back
Coronavirus has impacted travel around the world, with quarantines, travel bans and advice to stay home hitting airlines hard.
Now, some airlines are offering to waive some cancellation or rebooking fees in an effort to win customers over (for flights to areas without travel alerts though — so that excludes places like northern Italy, China, South Korea and Japan).
Reuters reports that Alaska Airlines, United Airlines, American Airlines, JetBlue Airways, British Airways and Delta Air Lines have all announced various waived charges or fee suspensions.
Australian airlines are taking precautions too — Qantas suspended direct flights to China from February 1, and Virgin Australia said it would withdraw its Sydney-Hong Kong service from March 2 due to growing concerns over the virus and civil unrest.
News emerged on Tuesday that Emirates asked staff to take unpaid leave, with widespread cancellations meaning the airline was over-resourced.
Tweet @VirginAustralia Toilet paper available on all Virgin Australia flights today
Full economic impact still unknown
Shadow Treasurer Jim Chalmers had a chat with Patricia Karvelas on Afternoon Briefing.
He said while he doesn’t want to predict whether the coronavirus could drive Australia into a recession, the virus and related travel bans would have a big impact on the economy.
“It remains to be seen how long the impact of this coronavirus hangs around in our economy but I think the broad expectation, including from the Government, certainly from us in the economic community is that the economy is substantially weak right now,” he said.
“We just don’t know … for how long it will persist.”
Your questions on coronavirus answered
- How can Australians protect themselves from coronavirus?
- What does toilet paper have to do with coronavirus?
- How can I stop coronavirus ruining my holiday?
Mr Chalmers also called for calm around issues like panic buying.
“I think the chief medical officer said it best when he said that [panic buying] is probably not the best response to the news that we’re getting about the coronavirus,” he said.
“People need to remember that we’re all in this together, and we need to exercise calm and be respectful to each other and make good decisions based on good sound medical advice.”
More than half of Indonesian health staff in contact with coronavirus patients are sick: reports
A 64-year old woman and her 31-year old daughter in Indonesia were confirmed on Monday to have coronavirus after the daughter came into contact with a Japanese woman visiting from Malaysia in mid-February.
Our Indonesia correspondent Anne Barker reports that despite concerns the women had the virus, they weren’t tested until late last week and their positive results were only confirmed on Sunday.
The two women have reportedly come into contact with at least 70 medical workers since they fell ill, as well as an unknown number of other people.
Local media reports indicated that more than half the medical workers have shown signs of fever, coughing or flu and are now in self-isolation.
Another 15 people are also in quarantine on Batam Island, in Indonesia’s Riau province — they’re among about 100 people who’d come into contact with three people visiting from Singapore who tested positive for COVID-19 after returning home.
There’s growing demands for Indonesia to introduce more rigorous testing and controls to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, amid suspicions over the deaths of several people over the past fortnight who had symptoms of pneumonia but tested negative for COVID-19.
One man with pneumonia was discharged from hospital on Monday and allowed to return home — he died soon after at Cianjur, a few hours south of Jakarta.
He had tested negative for coronavirus, but health authorities have since admitted the test needs to be done again, because the results may have come from another person.
Coronavirus continues to spread in NSW, with a third case of human-to-human transmission confirmed overnight.
NSW health authorities revealed the infected woman was an aged care worker in her 50s who had contact with residents at a Sydney nursing home.
The woman, a long-time staff member at Dorothy Henderson Lodge in Macquarie Park, is in a stable condition in Royal North Shore Hospital.
NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard said the woman had contact with 13 residents of the aged care home, and two of them had subsequently reported respiratory symptoms.
One of those two residents, a 95-year-old woman, has died.
“Whether or not it was related to corona, we don’t know at this point,” Mr Hazzard said.
It is unclear how the woman in Royal North Shore Hospital contracted coronavirus. However she had not been overseas, meaning she must have been infected in Australia.
Since Sunday, there have been 11 new COVID-19 infections in New South Wales.
Coronavirus identified in fourth Adelaide patient after travelling from Iran
South Australia’s Premier Steven Marshall has confirmed another person has tested positive to coronavirus in the state.
The 40-year-old woman travelled to Australia from Iran via Kuala Lumpur, arriving in Adelaide on March 1, and tested positive this morning.
Health authorities said she was at home while they arranged for her to be taken to hospital.
“They are attempting to get in touch with any close contacts the woman had, including people who were on the same flight as her,” Mr Marshall said.
Three other people have tested positive to coronavirus in South Australia since the outbreak, but all have since been cleared and discharged from hospital.
A 26-year-old man from Logan, south of Brisbane, is currently in isolation at Princess Alexandra Hospital after testing positive for COVID-19.
The man recently returned from Iran and remains in a stable condition.
There have now been 11 people in Queensland confirmed with the coronavirus, including three people from the Diamond Princess Cruise Ship.
Another man with COVID-19 remains isolated in a stable condition at the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital.
That patient’s housemate, whose test results are not yet finalised, is also isolated at the hospital undergoing assessment.
GDP figures don’t reflect the coronavirus crisis
The Australian economy grew by 0.5 per cent in the last three months of 2019, beating the expectations of economists, the ABS has revealed.
But the December quarter pre-dates the worst of the bushfire season and also does not include any fallout from the coronavirus outbreak (which was only initially reported at the end of December).
Warwick McKibbin, a former Reserve Bank board member and ANU professor, has done economic modelling suggesting that the hit to Australian GDP in 2020 from even a moderate coronavirus pandemic would likely surpass 2 percentage points.
Coronavirus has already had a big impact on the markets. Australian shares fall sharply on Wednesday after a volatile session on Wall Street overnight, sparked by a surprise rate cut from the US central bank.
It was the Federal Reserve’s first emergency rate cut since the global financial crisis in 2008, highlighting how seriously the central bank sees the economic fallout of the outbreak.
The ASX 200 dropped by 1.6 per cent when the market opened, but has since come off its lows, and was down 1.3 per cent to 6,350 points at 12:20pm (AEDT).
A 40-year-old left Iran mid-last week and travelled to Launceston, via Malaysia and Melbourne.
But the state’s public health director said after being tested, instead of going straight home to self-isolate, the man visited a Woolworths store between 10:00pm and 10:15pm.
He was not wearing a mask and was subsequently confirmed as the state’s first case of the virus.
Authorities have asked anyone who was at the supermarket on Wellington Street at that time to visit their GP or the city’s hospital if they feel unwell.
Victoria has confirmed a 10th case of coronavirus
The man, in his 30s, flew back to Melbourne from Iran on February 26, began showing symptoms four days later, and was diagnosed late on Tuesday night.
Health Minister Jenny Mikakos told ABC Radio Melbourne he had “very mild symptoms”, was recovering at home, and had experienced a quick recovery.
She said he called the coronavirus information hotline and had been in self-isolation in recent days so it appeared there had been “no other contacts or exposure to the community”.
“The good news is he’s done all the right things,” Ms Mikakos said.
Woolworths says its customers will only be able to buy a maximum of four packs of toilet paper, both in stores and online.
That’s because of higher than normal demand (you may have noticed quickly emptying shelves if you’ve been to the shops recently).
Australia’s chief medical officer Brendan Murphy says the rush to buy toilet paper isn’t necessary.
“We are trying to reassure people that removing all of the lavatory paper from supermarkets probably isn’t a proportionate or sensible thing to do,” he said.
Toilet paper and hand sanitiser manufacturers have already ramped up production, and people have also been stocking up on pet food, dried food and frozen meals.
So why are people buying toilet paper? Many of our readers have told us they have been buying up extra items in case they are unable to leave the house or supplies are interrupted.
One behavioural economist told us being prepared for the worst was not the same as “panic buying”.
South Korea reports another 500 cases, as thousands wait for hospital beds
South Korea has reported 516 new coronavirus cases, as thousands of sick people wait for hospital beds in Daegu, the city at the centre of the worst outbreak outside mainland China.
The new cases bring South Korea’s total to 5,328, with at least 32 deaths, mostly in and around Daegu where the flu-like virus has spread rapidly through members of a fringe Christian group.
South Korean Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said the country would deploy “special measures” to address the “emergency”.
“In order to overcome COVID-19 as quickly as possible and minimise the impact on the economy, it is necessary to proactively inject all available resources,” he said.
In Daegu, 2,300 people were waiting to be admitted to hospitals and temporary medical facilities, Vice Health Minister Kim Gang-lip said.
A 100-bed military hospital that had been handling many of the most serious cases was due to have 200 additional beds available by Thursday, he said.
A ban on foreign travellers from Iran was implemented on March 1 due to fears the country had not adequately responded to coronavirus.
But federal Health Minister Greg Hunt says new domestic cases originating in Iran demonstrate the need for extra measures.
“It doesn’t matter whether you are an Australian citizen, a permanent resident, or a visitor from Iran, the message is very clear — you are now required to self-isolate. That is a new position,” he said.
The required period of self-isolation is 14 days from arrival in Australia.
Australia’s chief medical officer says fly-in fly-out workers are also likely to face extra screening to prevent coronavirus from spreading to remote parts of the country, saying they present a “particular risk”.
Middle East correspondent Eric Tlozek says Iran is one of the countries worst affected by the coronavirus crisis.
The 92 people there dead due to COVID-19 include a member of parliament, a senior advisor to the country’s Supreme Leader and an adviser to Iran’s judiciary, according to semi-official media outlets.
Iranians are sharing cartoons, pictures and videos making light of the situation and mocking the scientifically questionable advice of clerics, including that people rub pansy oil on their backsides to cure the disease.
Many Iranians have accused their government of a cover-up and of failing to take containment measures — such as shutting holy sites where the outbreak spread — for religious reasons.
But the country’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, says the government has been open about its actions.
“Our officials have been informing the public since the first day (of the outbreak) with confidence, honesty, and transparency, but some other countries are hiding the fact that the disease is more severe and more widespread,” he said.
That’s far above seasonal flu’s fatality rate of under 1 per cent, but the novel coronavirus can be contained, the World Health Organisation said overnight.
Health officials around the world have said the death rate is 2 per cent to 4 per cent depending on the country, and may be much lower if there are thousands of unreported mild cases of the disease.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general, urged countries to prepare for patients with the virus turning up in their hospitals and ensure that health workers are protected.
But the world’s supplies of protective gear — masks, gloves and goggles — need to be increased by an estimated 40 per cent, especially as people continue to buy plenty of that equipment to protect themselves.
“We continue to call on manufacturers to urgently increase production to meet this demand and guarantee supplies,” Dr Tedros said.
“COVID-19 spreads less efficiently than flu, transmission does not appear to be driven by people who are not sick, it causes more severe illness than flu, there are not yet any vaccines or therapeutics, and it can be contained.”
The worldwide death toll from COVID-19 has risen:
- Italy recorded 27 new deaths in the past 24 hours, bringing its total number of dead to 79
- Spain confirmed its first coronavirus death, with tests showing a man from Valencia, who died on February 13, was killed by the virus
- In France, a fourth person died from coronavirus and President Emmanuel Macron warned the health crisis may last several months
- In the US, a second case of coronavirus was reported in New York and Washington state reported its ninth coronavirus death (all of the COVID-19 deaths in the country so far have been in the Seattle area)
- Indonesia, Ukraine, Argentina and Chile have reported their first coronavirus cases
China, the epicentre of the crisis, has continued to see signs of relief, with hundreds of patients released from hospitals.
The number of new infections in the country dropped to 125 on Tuesday, the lowest in several weeks.
“We scrutinised this data and we believe this decline is real,” said WHO outbreak expert Maria Van Kerkhove, who travelled to China as part of a team from the UN agency.
“We believe that a reduction of cases in other countries, including Italy, Korea, Iran, everywhere, that this is possible,” she said.
And you’ve probably seen stories about Pope Francis getting sick at the Vatican amid a coronavirus emergency in Italy.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has told athletes to prepare for the Tokyo Olympics — despite fears the threat of coronavirus could delay or even cancel the summer Games.
IOC president Thomas Bach gave his unequivocal backing to the Games going ahead as the committee’s executive board met in Switzerland on Tuesday (local time) to discuss the event, set to run from July 24 to August 9.
“We are preparing for a successful Olympic Games, Tokyo 2020,” Mr Bach said in Lausanne.
“I would like to encourage all the athletes to continue their preparation for the Olympic Games, Tokyo 2020 with great confidence and full steam.”
What the experts are saying about coronavirus:
- As a coronavirus pandemic looms, experts say now’s the time to get ready
- The coronavirus emergency plan has been activated. Here’s what that means for you