5 Feb 2020

Wuhan coronavirus: Fiji awaits test results from 2 suspected cases

9:57 am on 5 February 2020

Fiji is sending blood and swab samples from two suspected cases of the Wuhan coronavirus to Australia for testing, as fears grow over a global pandemic.

Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama and Health Minister Ifereimi Waqainabete.

Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama and Health Minister Ifereimi Waqainabete. Photo: Fiji govt/Facebook

The patients, who are both Fiji citizens, are symptomatic and authorities wore full protection as an ambulance rushed the two into isolation at Nadi Hospital from a local health centre where they had sought treatment after arriving from China on Monday.

The samples are being sent to a WHO 'Collaborating Centre' reference laboratory in Melbourne, Fiji's Ministry of Health said.

It said the symptoms of Wuhan coronavirus were "very similar" to many other respiratory illnesses, including colds and influenza, and it expected to investigate more cases with a "relevant travel history" and symptoms.

"The [ministry] wishes to strongly urge the public to not share rumours and misinformation. Just as we did during the measles outbreak the ministry will inform the public as soon as possible once we have a confirmed case," it said in a statement.

The World Health Organisation says there are now 17,391 confirmed cases of the virus in 24 countries but 99 percent of them are in China.

A University of Otago Public Health expert said it was good that Fiji was managing the cases appropriately as the Pacific region was vulnerable.

Professor Michael Baker

Professor Michael Baker Photo: Supplied

Professor Michael Baker said as it was winter in the northern hemisphere most people with respiratory symptoms were more likely to have a cold or influenza than coronavirus, meaning confirmation was essential.

There was still a lot to learn about this virus, he said.

"There are predictions now that it may turn into a global pandemic so it's very appropriate for countries like New Zealand, Australia and the Pacific to be imposing very tight restrictions on travellers coming from China, where it's being transmitted very rapidly."

Fiji is also managing those in direct contact with the sick pair and will advise the public once lab results are known.

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