When a new flu-like virus first emerged out of Wuhan, two "dangerously false" assumptions started to spread about who was affected by COVID-19, one expert claims.
The editor of a prestigious British medical journal has slammed the "dangerously false" information that initially circulated about coronavirus, warning it is a more serious disease than previously thought.
The Lancet editor Richard Horton has been an outspoken critic of the UK government's failure to prepare for the COVID-19 pandemic despite warnings in late January about the new disease emerging from Wuhan.
He has previously referred to this failure, inadequate testing and lack of supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE) as a "national scandal". Now, in an article published in the Lancet he said early comments the disease was flu-like and only affected older people were misconceptions.
"As deaths accumulate, the early message that severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 causes mostly a mild illness has been shown to be dangerously false," he wrote.
"One in five patients develop complications and are at grave risk. A further misunderstanding concerns age.
"An impression was given that only older people are at risk of serious illness. But the average age of non-survivors is under 70 years. Two-thirds of those admitted to hospital in China were younger than 60 years."
In Australia, three people in their thirties were reported to be on ventilators in intensive care wards last week, with Deputy Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly calling it a "wake up call" for younger people.
NSW Health statistics show the 20-39 year old age group has the highest number of cases, with slightly more women than men contracting the virus.
China has been widely criticised for failing to warn the world early enough that the mysterious new disease was being transmitted between humans in Wuhan. That secrecy, combined with world leaders being slow to prepare, has led to an unprecedented pandemic that has infected more than 2 million people and killed more than 119,000 worldwide.
The virus has also seen billions of people warned to stay home and created an economic crisis not seen since the Great Depression, with countries only now grappling with how to lift restrictions and return to a semblance of normality.
There are more than 6300 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Australia, with 2870 in New South Wales, 1291 in Victoria, 998 in Queensland, 433 in South Australia, 527 in Western Australia, 150 in Tasmania, 103 in the Australian Capital Territory and 28 in the Northern Territory.
The death toll now stands at 62, after a sixth person died in Tasmania earlier today.
Horton said the public health crisis has seen patient numbers in intensive care doubling every two days and doctors left feeling overwhelmed and bewildered.
"Deaths are so frequent that hospitals have created emergency mortuary space, often in car parks, moving bodies at night to avoid media scrutiny," he wrote.
"Intensive care teams are doing truly remarkable work. But it is a huge physical and mental struggle."
"The focus of the political debate about coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) has so far been almost exclusively about the public health dimensions of this pandemic. But at the bedside there is another story, one that has so far been largely hidden — a story of terrible suffering, distress, and utter bewilderment."
The UK remains in the eye of the storm, with more than 11,329 deaths and intensive care units under pressure. Medical bosses believe cases will peak next week and the country is expected to remain in lockdown for another three weeks.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has tested negative for the disease after being discharged from intensive care and is now in recovery at his country retreat, Chequers.
On Tuesday, new figures revealed the number of virus deaths in Britain could be 15 per cent higher than previously believed according to data on deaths outside of hospital.
The Office for National Statitstics said 6235 people in England and Wales had died by April 3 with mentions of COVID-19 on their death certificates.
"When looking at data for England, this is 15 per cent higher than the NHS (National Health Service) numbers as they include all mentions of COVID-19 on the death certificate, including suspected COVID-19, as well as deaths in the community," ONS statistician Nick Stripe said.
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In London, more than 46 per cent of deaths in week 14 of the year involved COVID-19, according to initial figures.
The UK government has received major criticism for failing to conduct widespread testing for coronavirus and pursuing a strategy of "herd immunity". Doctors and nurses on the frontline in NHS hospitals have also warned a lack of PPE has put lives at risk.
Horton previously wrote the NHS has been "wholly unprepared for this pandemic" and it was "impossible to understand why".
He said chief medical officers had a duty to put the country on high-alert following warnings published in late January, however a lack of action has led to "chaos and panic" in which staff and patients would "die unnecessarily."
"It is, indeed, as one health worker wrote last week, "a national scandal". The gravity of that scandal has yet to be understood."
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned new cases might be easing in parts of Europe but the outbreak has not peaked yet.
"The overall world outbreak, 90 per cent of cases are coming from Europe and the United States of America. So we are certainly not seeing the peak yet," WHO spokeswoman Margaret Harris said.
In Australia, Prime Minister Scott Morrison dismissed claims social restrictions would be easing up soon, but said there should be a "reward" for the nation's "discipline and patience".
"Yes, we've had a good couple of weeks but that does not a virus beat. That's why we have many more in front of us before we could even possibly contemplate the easing of restrictions," he told Sky News on Tuesday.
He added: "There has got to be a reward for all of this great effort going in, and there will be, but we've got to make sure it is done at the right time."
"We don't want to end up like New York or like London or like in Spain or in Italy or any of these places," he said.
"And the decisions and actions we've taken together as a country and the discipline and patience shown by Australians has meant that we've been able to avoid those horror scenarios which, you know, Australia is not immune to.