Coronavirus, SARS and flu experts compare the differences between the diseases

As the number of people dying from coronavirus rockets well ahead of those killed by SARS, experts say the disease’s spread is now at a critical stage.

Key points:

  • Coronavirus experts said there were still many unknowns, with China “swamped” with coronavirus cases
  • The virus is understood to be more contagious than SARS, with about 20-25 per cent of cases considered “severe”
  • Experts believe the true test of the virus’s spread will come when the travel bans out of China are lifted

Nine weeks after the novel coronavirus was first discovered, Australian infectious disease experts are only beginning to understand its severity, how it is spread and how to contain it.

In Australia, there are only 15 confirmed cases. Health Minister Greg Hunt says five people have recovered from the illness, while the remaining 10 are stable and in a “recovery process”.

So the question remains: with thousands of Australians dying every year from influenza, and no coronavirus deaths reported in Australia, why are we still so worried about it?

According to leading virologist Ian Mackay, from the University of Queensland, the fact China has been “swamped” with cases means there are still many unknowns about the disease.

“[At the moment] the Chinese authorities can’t even rely on the numbers being calculated in China,” Dr Mackay said. “Their hospitals have been inundated.

“And without really good numbers and data we can’t be sure [of anything].”

 

“We all have very little immunity with coronavirus, which means it will run through a population. The virus has all the tools to spread wildly.”

 

Dr Mackay’s concerns are shared by Australian National University infectious diseases physician Sanjaya Senanayake.

He said although there were still many unknowns, the novel coronavirus appeared to be more infectious than SARS — in just nine weeks, coronavirus has eclipsed the number of SARS cases that took eight months to develop.

“When it comes to how fast coronavirus can spread between people, it looks like coronavirus can take about six to seven days,” Dr Senanyake said.

“That’s slightly longer than the flu, which can spread between people in four days.”

However, chief medical officer Brendan Murphy has moved to reassure Australians that there has been “no community transmission” of the virus locally.

“There is no reason for people to be wearing masks,” he said.

“There’s no reason for people to avoid anybody of any particular background or appearance.”

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