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What a coronavirus pandemic means for Australians

What a coronavirus pandemic means for Australians
A pandemic of the coronavirus COVID-19 is close to being inevitable, after an outbreak of the disease over the weekend in Italy, Iran and South Korea.
And as many as 70 per cent of Australians may contract coronavirus if the disease breaks out in the country.
But Infectious Diseases professor Nigel McMillan from Griffith University said that for most people who contract it, the disease will not be a big issue.
Confirmed coronavirus cases (Nine)
"For 99 per cent of the population, this will be a mild cold, not more than that," Professor McMillan told 9News.
"Three quarters of kids under the age of two have had a coronavirus, but not COVID-19.
"Ten percent of common colds are coronaviruses. We've all had it."
But COVID-19 has a one percent fatality rate, relatively high for a coronavirus.
A mass outbreak would be the first major pandemic since the Hong Kong flu that killed a million people in 1968.
What makes the disease more dangerous than its deadlier counterparts, MERS and SARS, is how easily it spreads.
People stand on their balconies of the H10 Costa Adeje Palace after the hotel went into lockdown following two guests testing positive for coronavirus. (AP/AAP)
"There are people who are walking around who have no idea they have it," Professor McMillan said.
"They'll have no symptoms or very mild symptoms."
A pandemic will likely put the health system under serious strain, but in the long-term, COVID-19 may become just another virus in global circulation.
The development of a vaccine is anticipated to be 18 months away, by which time much of the pandemic's damage will be done.
Workers wearing protective gears spray disinfectant against the new coronavirus in front of a church in Daegu, South Korea. (AP)
"Eighteen months is rocket speed for vaccines," Professor McMillan said.
"At the University of Queensland they got the sequence of this viral and in four weeks they had a vaccine candidate.
"It's a really great example of where Australian science is leading the way here."
Speaking in Canberra today, Chief Health Officer Brendan Murphy said it was interesting that very few children appear to have been infected.
"That either means that children aren't particularly susceptible or if they are they are getting such mild disease is not been detected," he said.
"Whatever the reason is, that's a good thing."
How does coronavirus affect the body? (Graphic: Tara Blancato)
Dr Murphy could not say how bad an outbreak would lead to action like school closures.
"If a pandemic is declared but we are in containment in Australia, we'll just continue what we're doing now. It's just a label," he said.
"We are already preparing for the eventuality that we have further outbreaks in Australia."
Health Minister Greg Hunt said it would be too early to say if the Japanese coronavirus outbreak should deter athletes from going to the Olympics.
"Our first priority, not just with the general population but with the athletes themselves, is the health and safety of the athletes.
The coronavirus as seen under a microscope. (British Health Protection Agency)
"Secondly, however, the Olympics is some five months away roughly, so assessments will be made closer to the time."