Queensland authorities are testing people for coronavirus who were on the same flight and tour group as a man who has been diagnosed with the disease.
ABC News reported four more people who were on the same tour group as the man are being tested and are currently in isolation at the Gold Coast University Hospital.
The man was travelling on Tigerair flight TT566 from Melbourne to the Gold Coast on 27 January and became unwell on the flight. Queensland’s health manager is urging anyone who was on the flight to call 13HEALTH. 172 people are believed to have been onboard the flight.
The plane itself has been taken out of service for cleaning as a precaution, according to Tigerair’s group medical officer, Dr Sara Souter.
Satirical online publication the Betoota Advocate has pounced on the opportunity to make light of the situation, publishing an article titled Coronavirus Victim Reportedly Exposed to Tigerair, which you can read here if you’re in need of a chuckle.
A total of 41 people in Queensland are being tested for the virus, with eight of them having been on the same tour group as the man, half of which are unwell, according to ABC News.
Public health emergency declared
This comes as the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared the outbreak a public health emergency of international concern, meaning there will be a greater worldwide response and increased screenings at airports.
The decision reportedly stems from mounting evidence the virus has spread to around 18 countries.
As a result, the Transport Workers Union (TWU) has called for the Prime Minister to immediately suspend all incoming flights from China to Australia in order to prevent further spread of the deadly disease.
TWU said in a statement that air travel is the most efficient means for the virus to spread and has already contributed to its rapid dispersion.
Many airlines around the world have either suspended or are scaling back flights to China, including Air France, American Airlines, British Airways, Jetstar, Air New Zealand, Singapore Airlines, United Airlines and Virgin Atlantic, among others.
However, Qantas has said it sees no reason to pull flights from China yet unless demand dries up or the federal government orders suspensions. The airline operates daily flights between Shanghai and Sydney and five weekly services to Beijing.
50 flight attendants from the national carrier have also volunteered to crew a rescue flight from Wuhan, where 100s of Australians are believed to be stranded after transport out of the city was banned due to the outbreak, the Australian reported.
The decision was reached during a meeting between the Flight Attendants Association of Australia (FAA) and Qantas after they were assured that risk of contracting the virus was low unless there had been direct face to face proximity.
The government is working to evacuate hundreds of Australians from China where they will be taken for a two-week quarantine on Christmas Island. It is believed a Qantas flight will be used for the evacuations.
Evacuees will have to pay $1,000 for a seat on the flight back to Australia, but home affairs minister Peter Dutton said they will not have to pay for their stay on Christmas Island.
Panic just as dangerous as virus
Industry body, The World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) has released a warning that the spread of panic may be just as important to contain as the virus itself.
“The coronavirus outbreak in China could have a damaging and lasting economic impact on the global Travel & Tourism sector unless lessons are learned from previous viral epidemics,” a notice on the WTTC website said.
“The worldwide economic impact of H1N1 was estimated at up to US$55 billion, with the loss to the Mexican tourism industry valued at US$5 billion after the 2009 outbreak.
“Analysis of previous major viral epidemics by experts from WTTC shows that the average recovery time for visitor numbers to a destination was 19 months, but with the right response and management could recover in as little as 10 months.”
Travellers get crafty
In other, slightly brighter coronavirus news, travellers are coming up with creative ways to prevent the spread of the virus, with some resorting to wearing large plastic bottles on their heads.
The Daily Mail published photos found on social media people wearing everything from large plastic containers to plastic bags and motorcycle helmets at the airport or on flights.
Featured image: iStock.com/superjoseph