Who Australia’s coronavirus spreaders really are
Exclusive: People travelling from the US have introduced far more cases of coronavirus infections into Australia than China, the country where the pandemic started.
People with a direct link to the Americas, including the US, account for 19 per cent of Australia's current 3574 infections, Department of Health data shows.
By comparison, the area grouped as "North East Asia (including China)'' is linked to only small numbers of infections in Australia.
The department did not provide specific figures for this grouping of countries.
But the most recent weekly epidemiology report prepared by the department, which concluded on March 14, shows people with direct links to the US accounted for 22 per cent of infections that week, compared to 8 per cent from China.
The figures were recorded after the ban on people travelling from China was announced on February 1. No specific bans were introduced for the United States, a close political and economic ally of Australia, and flights only stopped when all non-citizens were banned on March 20.
Infectious disease expert and microbiologist Peter Collignon told News Corp that in hindsight, a travel ban should have been placed on flights coming from the US.
Speaking before Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced all international return travellers would be placed in compulsory quarantine, Professor Collignon, from the Australian National University's medical school, said returning travellers were Australia's greatest challenge, as they brought the virus with them, and passed it on to their family and close contacts.
"The US is now our main source of infection, the US and Europe much more than China and Iran,'' he said.
"It's gone through different countries at different rates. In retrospect we should have put a ban on the US a bit earlier.''
Prof. Collignon said the Australian rate of community transmission was still very low.
Figures from the National Notifiable Diseases Surveillance System, released to News Corp by the Federal Department of Health, show that of the 3166 infections recorded in Australia by 3pm on Friday:
*19 per cent were acquired in the United States;
*19 per cent were acquired at sea (cruise ships);
*12 per cent were acquired in the United Kingdom;
*An unspecified number of other cases were acquired from 60 other countries and regions.
The weekly report on coronavirus cases to March 14 showed that:
*22 per cent of cases had a direct link to US;
*11 per cent had a direct link to Italy;
*9 per cent had a direct link to Iran;
*8 per cent had a direct link to the UK;
*8 per cent had a direct to China;
*6 per cent were Diamond Princess cruise ship passengers repatriated from Japan;
*37 per cent had a recent travel history to other countries.
Prof. Collignon said the vast majority of positive diagnoses of coronavirus in Australia involved people who had returned from overseas and their immediate contacts.
"There is very little evidence of community transmissions in Australia. I think it is encouraging because what we have done is along the same lines as Singapore and Korea have done quite successfully.
"They've turned the curve - they're still getting sporadic case but they're not getting this exponential rise.
"We had minimal or almost no community spread here, maybe we were lucky because it was our autumn and it was warmer, but there's been spread in the US for at least six weeks and (in) Europe.''
Prof. Collignon said Europe remained the largest source of coronavirus cases in Australia but that Australia' relatively-early travel bans (on countries including Italy and Iran) had helped keep cases down, as had early testing, which began in January.
On Friday, the US overtook China as the country with the most infections, with 100,717 cases recorded by yesterday, compared to 81,897 in China. China is still believed to be not be recording cases of people who show no symptoms.
Globally, the figures stand at 590,594 infections, and 26,943 people have died.
Originally published as Who Australia's coronavirus spreaders really are