Wuhan virus: The Morrison Government has potentially put us all at risk

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Scott Morrison and Michael McCormack are shown warning signs to be displayed in airports, but is it too late? (Screenshot via YouTube)

With the risk of coronavirus being brought into Australia, our government should have taken steps to protect its citizens, writes Tarric Brooker.

EARLIER THIS WEEK, Chinese authorities put the entire city of Wuhan under quarantine.  After long deliberations, the Chinese Government concluded that allowing Wuhan, the transport hub for much of central China, to remain open during the Lunar New Year and its associated internal movements of hundreds of millions of people was too great a risk.

As a result, the 11 million residents of Wuhan are no longer allowed to leave the city. Police and other government authorities have blocked roads and closed transport hubs in an attempt to slow the spread of the potentially deadly coronavirus.

Wuhan’s hospitals and medical services are being overwhelmed by the sheer number of potential patients with symptoms, who fear they may have the potentially deadly disease.

In Macau, authorities have cancelled all Lunar New Year celebrations due to the threat of the virus spreading, after a second case was confirmed earlier today. Macau residents with a fever are now also no longer allowed to leave the city and citizens are being screened by health officials as they leave.

In Hong Kong, the first case of the disease has been confirmed and residents have begun to prepare themselves for the outbreak. After 1,750 cases of SARS back in 2003 leading to 286 deaths over less than three months, the people of Hong Kong know far better than most how damaging a viral outbreak can be in a densely populated city.

The incubation period of the coronavirus (the time between initial infection and showing symptoms) is approximately 14 days, compared with two to seven days for SARS.

This longer period of a patient being infected but not showing symptoms may make it far harder for authorities to stop the spread of the virus, with infected individuals going about their business or travelling for up to two weeks before health officials can determine they have been infected.

On Thursday, a flight arrived in Sydney from Wuhan, one of the last aircraft to leave the quarantined city before it was locked down in quarantine. When the flight landed, its passengers were subject to a brief screening by NSW health authorities to confirm that none were currently showing symptoms, but there was no quarantine enacted and the passengers were free to enter Australia and go where they please.

The quarantine in Wuhan was enacted approximately four hours after the flight bound for Sydney took off, giving the Morrison Government and the associated authorities over five hours to prepare a precautionary quarantine upon arrival.

Despite the risk of an infected passenger entering the country and the fact it could be up to two weeks before they show observable symptoms, the Morrison Government and the Department of Home Affairs chose not to quarantine the passengers.

While it’s entirely possible that no one on the flight was infected, by allowing the passengers into the country without an adequate quarantine to ensure the safety of the general public, the Morrison Government has taken a reckless and unnecessary risk.

In the view of the Chinese Government, this virus is serious enough to lock down a city that has a population that is almost half of all of Australia. It has brought to a complete halt many of the 3 billion trips Chinese would have taken across their country for the Lunar New Year.

For reasons that are unclear, the Chinese Government is being far more cautious and vigilant with the lives and health of its citizens than the Morrison Government is with those of the Australian public.

It would have been easy enough to quarantine this planeload of people and let them go, either once the incubation period was over or they were thoroughly tested for the disease by health authorities.

As this outbreak continues to unfold, nothing is certain as medical researchers and doctors try their best to combat the virus. Hopefully, Australians will not come to regret this unnecessary mistake by the Morrison Government and everything works out for the best.

Tarric Brooker is a freelance journalist and political commentator.

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