As of 6:30 a.m. on March 18, there were 454 confirmed cases in the country, of which 43 had recovered from COVID-19, according to official figures, and six, all aged over 70, had died.
The department said that the source of infection for 26 cases is currently unknown, with another 138 cases under investigation. Meanwhile, 228 cases have been established to have been acquired from overseas—mostly from Iran, Italy, the UK, and the United States—and a further 62 cases were contacts of previously confirmed cases.
The announcement comes as researchers at the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity revealed that they now have a glimpse into how the human immune system is responding to the coronavirus after taking blood from one of Australia’s first COVID-19 patients and identifying the antibodies recruited by the body to fight the illness.
Four blood samples were taken from a woman in her 40s who tested positive for the virus in Wuhan in China, where the disease originated. The blood samples were taken both before and after her recovery, and researchers found an “emergence of immune cells in the blood.”
Laboratory head Katherine Kedzierska told ABC that the body responds to COVID-19 in the same way it responds to the flu.
“The immune cell populations we have seen emerging before patients recover are the same cells that we see in influenza,” she said.
“Because this is a new virus, we didn’t know how the body would respond,” Professor Kedzierska said, adding that she is now hopeful the findings will prove helpful in developing an effective vaccine.
“This information will allow us to evaluate any vaccine candidate, as in an ideal world, the vaccine should mimic our body’s immune response,” she added.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Wednesday upgraded the countries international travel advice to the highest level, with citizens told not to travel overseas as the government declared the pandemic a “human biosecurity emergency.”
“We are upgrading the travel ban on Australians to level four for the entire world. That is the first time that has ever happened in Australia’s history,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said at a news conference Wednesday morning. “The travel advice to every Australian is ‘Do not travel abroad.’ Do not go overseas. That is very clear, that instruction.”
“Regardless of your destination, age or health, our advice is ‘do not travel‘ at this time,” the advice on the Smart Traveller website said. “As more countries close their borders or introduce travel restrictions, overseas travel is becoming more complex and difficult.”
Morrison noted that the ban is indefinite and that other countries appear to be putting up similar travel restrictions.
The prime minister also ordered a halt on “non-essential” indoor gatherings of more than 100 people, effective immediately, on top of an existing ban on outdoor events of more than 500.
However, schools, universities, airports, public transport, medical and emergency services facilities, aged care homes, jails, courts, parliaments, supermarkets and many workplaces will remain open, he said.