The recent outbreak of coronavirus in Wuhan, China, has quickly spread to other parts of the world, killing at least 41 people and causing illnesses in nearly 1300 people.

China's government has restricted travel and cancelled many events around the Lunar New Year holiday and warned the virus is "accelerating its speed".

Four Australians have been confirmed as contracting the deadly virus, and there are fears more cases will emerge. Authorities are urging people to stay calm but take precautionary measures.

How to reduce the risk

Health authorities are reminding people of the simple things they can do to reduce risks. These include washing hands regularly with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub, thoroughly cooking meat and eggs and avoiding contact with wild or farm animals.


Anyone with a cough or fever has been urged to go to hospital.

While the World Health Organisation has not declared a global health emergency over the outbreak, it has acknowledged the severity of the outbreak in China.

"Make no mistake, though, this is an emergency in China," said WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

A press conference was held this morning to address the outbreak on a global scale.

Race to a vaccine

Given the rapid spread of infection, University of Queensland researchers are working round the clock to develop a vaccine for the deadly coronavirus in less than six months.

The researchers have been tasked with rushing a vaccine into existence using rapid response technology that's proven effective against other viruses in lab conditions.

The team hopes to have a safe and effective vaccine available for worldwide distribution within six months, and they won't even need the live virus to do it.

Instead, they will rely on new technology know as molecular clamp.


The team already has the genetic sequence of the coronavirus and will use that to produce a protein the same as what is on the surface of the virus. It's that protein that engages the body's immune defences.

"By injecting that we can get an optimal immune response in people that affords protection," said Dr Keith Chappell, from UQ's School of Chemistry and Molecular Biosciences and the Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology.

The Queensland researchers are among three teams around the world tapped by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations to try to rapidly develop a coronavirus vaccine.

Currently, there is no vaccine for the virus, which can spread through respiratory transmission. Symptoms include fever, difficulty breathing and coughing.

Dr Chappell says his team has a gruelling few months ahead, but they will do everything they can to have a safe vaccine available by the end of July or sooner, if possible.

"That is our goal. It's an incredibly difficult time frame, but we'll do our best," he told ABC radio.

"We've got a lot of testing ahead of us to make sure that it is both safe and effective before it can go into humans."

He said there were no guarantees, but the vaccine development technology had proven effective against several other viruses in lab experiments.

"Unfortunately, we're seeing a situation that changes from day to day. Lives have been lost on a daily basis, which is why we've swung into action as quickly as possible," Dr Chappell said.

The coronavirus family includes the common cold as well as viruses that can be much more severe, like severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) or Middle East respiratory syndrome (Mers), which developed from camels.

The Sars outbreak in 2002-2003 killed close to 800 people.

So far, close to 800 cases of the coronavirus have been reported to the World Health Organisation, including 25 deaths.

All those killed and the majority of cases were in China, the organisation added, with other cases reported in Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Thailand, the US and Vietnam.

The first case in North America was confirmed in Washington state on Tuesday.