CSIRO joins coronavirus battle as global emergency declared

19:00 EST 2 Feb 2020 | Australian Life Scientist

The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) — the sixth time ever case of an international emergency of this kind.

At a meeting of the International Health Regulations (2005) Emergency Committee convened by the WHO Director-General, representatives of the Ministry of Health of the People’s Republic of China reported that there are now 7711 confirmed and 12,167 suspected cases throughout the country. Of the confirmed cases, 1370 are severe and 170 people have died. 124 people have recovered and been discharged from hospital.

Outside China there are 83 confirmed cases in 18 countries, seven of which had no history of travel in China. There has been human-to-human transmission in three countries outside China with one case categorised as severe, though there have been no deaths.

This was the second meeting of the Emergency Committee, with the first meeting finding that the outbreak did not constitute a PHEIC — though committee members acknowledged the urgency of the situation. The second meeting took place in view of significant increases in numbers of cases and additional countries reporting confirmed cases, with the committee this time agreeing that the outbreak now meets the criteria for a PHEIC.

With organisations around the world now mobilising to contain the novel coronavirus, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) — a global group that aims to derail epidemics by speeding up the development of vaccines — has engaged CSIRO to help determine the characteristics of the virus’s characteristics. The work will be undertaken at the Australian Animal Health Laboratory (AAHL), CSIRO’s high-containment facility in Geelong — the only Physical Containment Level 4 (PC4) lab in Australia and one of only five in the world.

“CSIRO has been on the front line of biosecurity for 100 years,” CSIRO Chief Executive Dr Larry Marshall said. “From hosting Australia’s most secure biosecurity lab, to developing the world’s first effective flu treatment and a vaccine for the Hendra virus, to more recent research on pathogens like SARS, CSIRO has a long history in keeping Australians safe from the threat of disease.

“CSIRO is uniquely placed to combine our deep expertise in animal and human health, with capability in genetics, data and machine learning, to help fight this virus — but collaboration is key.

“As the national science agency, we can help bring together every branch of science and experts from across the system to tackle this major global health challenge.”

The research aims to paint a clearer picture of the coronavirus, including how long it takes to develop and replicate, how it impacts on the respiratory system and how it can be transmitted. Once information around where the virus originated and how it spreads becomes clearer, the team at AAHL can begin testing of new potential vaccines being developed in the context of CEPI’s platform technology program, established to create a rapid response pipeline for developing and testing new vaccines against previously unknown pathogens.

“The rapid global spread and unique epidemiological characteristics of the novel coronavirus is deeply concerning,” said CEPI CEO Richard Hatchett. “Partnering with CSIRO, CEPI aims to improve our understanding of this virus and its epidemiological characteristics, which are key components in expediting development of the vaccines the world needs.”

Image caption: Computer artwork of the coronavirus. Image ©Science Photo Library PASIEKA.

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Original Article: CSIRO joins coronavirus battle as global emergency declared


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