Coronaviruses: COVID-19, SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV

In recent years three coronaviruses (CoV) have emerged as a threat to human health. Coronaviruses can cause illness similar to the common cold and others can cause more serious diseases, including Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS).


The most recent is COVID-19 which was first notified from Wuhan, Hubei province in China in December 2019. This situation is rapidly changing and it is mainly affecting people in mainland China, however there have been outbreaks in other countries around the world. 

The majority of new cases continue to be reported from Republic of Korea, Italy and Iran. Japan and several countries in Europe continue to report large increases in cases.

If you’re planning any overseas travel, or have returned from an at risk country, see and follow the travellers and visitors information provided by the Australian Government Department of Health.

Standard hand washing and personal hygiene measures are encouraged to reduce risk. Face masks in those with no symptoms are not effective. For up-to-date information on COVID-19 visit the Australian Government Department of Health and Smart Traveller Websites. 



Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) is caused by the SARS-CoV and was a serious global health threat in early 2003. During that outbreak, which mainly occurred in Hong Kong, China, Singapore and Canada, 774 patients died and 8,098 cases were recorded.



In June of 2012, a Coronavirus infection was diagnosed in the Middle East.  The Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) is a severe respiratory illness with transmission occurring through close personal contacts of active cases. Since 2012 to the time of print, there have been 1626 laboratory confirmed cases had been notified to the World Health Organization from 26 countries, mostly from Saudi Arabia, with a case- fatality rate of 57%.


Coronaviruses often cause severe respiratory illness, although other body systems can be affected as well. People with underlying chronic conditions may be more at risk. Symptoms include runny nose, cough, sore throat, and fever. Severe cases can develop into pneumonia.


Stringent personal hygiene, regularly washing hands with soap, avoiding touching your mouth, nose and eyes, and avoidance of human cases.

How can we help prevent the spread of COVID-19?

Good hygiene and cough/sneeze etiquette are the best methods to prevent the spread of most viruses:

  • Wash hands regularly with soap and water, including before and after eating, and after going to the toilet
  • Cough and sneeze into a disposable tissue, or into the elbow, and use alcohol based hand sanitiser
  • If unwell, avoid contact with others

The routine use of surgical masks is not recommended for members of the general public who are well. Further information on the use of surgical masks may be found here.