Australian scientists claim to have made "significant breakthrough" in diagnosing coronavirus 2 weeks ago

Australian scientists claim to have made "significant breakthrough" in diagnosing coronavirus

The news comes as British Airways has suspended all flights to China.

Scientists in Australia have become the first to recreate the coronavirus outside of China in what they have called a "significant breakthrough".

Researchers at a specialist lab in Melbourne said they were able to grow a copy of the virus from an infected patient. The sample was sent to them last Friday.

The discovery will now be shared with the World Health Organisation (WHO) in the hope it may help efforts to diagnose and treat the virus while also combatting the global spread of the illness.

The Australia-grown virus sample would be used to generate an antibody test, which would allow detection of the virus in patients who had not shown symptoms, as well as contributing to the creation of a vaccine.

“Chinese officials released the genome sequence of this novel coronavirus, which is helpful for diagnosis, however, having the real virus means we now have the ability to actually validate and verify all test methods, and compare their sensitivities and specificities - it will be a game changer for diagnosis,” Dr Julian Druce said.

Scientists in China have also recreated the virus and shared its genome sequence, but not the virus itself.

"Having the real virus means we now have the ability to actually validate and verify all test methods, and compare their sensitivities and specificities", added Druce, the Doherty Institute's virus identification laboratory head.

At present, the outbreak has killed 132 people in China and infected close to 6,000. No deaths have been reported outside China.

There are at least 47 cases confirmed in 16 other countries, including Thailand, France, the US and Australia.

The Doherty Institute-grown virus is expected to be used to generate an antibody test, which allows detection of the virus in patients who haven’t displayed symptoms and were therefore unaware they had the virus.

“An antibody test will enable us to retrospectively test suspected patients so we can gather a more accurate picture of how widespread the virus is, and consequently, among other things, the true mortality rate.It will also assist in the assessment of effectiveness of trial vaccines, Dr Mike Catton said.

Elsewhere, British Airways has suspended all direct flights to and from mainland China because of the coronavirus outbreak.

A statement said: "We apologise to customers for the inconvenience, but the safety of our customers and crew is always our priority. Customers due to travel to or from China in the coming days can find more information on BA.com.”

BA.com, the airline’s website, shows no direct flights to China are available in January and February

Other airlines, including United Airlines, Air Canada and Cathay Pacific Airways, have already cancelled some flights to China.