Scientists in Australia recreate coronavirus in potential ‘game changer’ in race to find vaccine

Andy Wells
Freelance Writer

As the search for a vaccine for the deadly new coronavirus continues, scientists in Australia have hailed a breakthrough after successfully recreating it in a lab.

Researchers from the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity in Melbourne said the breakthrough will allow for accurate investigation and diagnosis of the virus globally.

The institute's virus identification laboratory head Dr Julian Druce called the development a "game changer”.

It comes as British Airways announced it was suspending all flights to mainland China with immediate effect after the death toll for the virus reached 132, with nearly 6,000 people infected around the world.

Chinese workers manufacture the nucleic acid detection agent for the new coronavirus at the plant of Jiangsu Bioperfectus Technologies Co., Ltd. in Taizhou City (PA)
Chinese workers manufacture the nucleic acid detection agent (PA)

Meanwhile, Brits still in China are set to be evacuated by the UK government following the removal of US and Australian citizens.

Speaking about the recreation of the virus, Dr Druce said: "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.

"The virus will be used as positive control material for the Australian network of public health laboratories, and also shipped to expert laboratories working closely with the World Health Organization in Europe.”

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The virus, which saw its first human-to-human transmission in Germany this week, was grown from a patient sample that the Doherty Institute received on Friday.

The laboratory-grown virus is expected to be used to generate an antibody test, which would allow detection of the virus in patients who have not yet displayed any symptoms.

There were 26 coronavirus deaths recorded in the last 24 hours, with all but one recorded in Hubei province.

British Airways has said that it has suspended all flights to and from mainland China with immediate effect. (PA)

The United Arab Emirates confirmed its first cases of the virus in a family who recently returned to the Middle East from Wuhan.

China has cut off access to Wuhan and 16 other cities in Hubei province to prevent people from leaving and spreading the virus further.

The lockdown has trapped more than 50m people in the most far-reaching disease control measures ever imposed.

People wear masks at a metro station in Taipei, Taiwan. (PA)
A Chinese volunteer wearing protective clothing disinfects a residential quarter for prevention of the new coronavirus and pneumonia during the Chinese New Year holiday. (AP)

Wuhan is building two hospitals in a matter of days to add 2,500 beds for treatment of patients with the virus.

Experts worry the new virus may spread more easily than originally thought, or may have mutated into a form that does so.

The coronavirus family is responsible for causing the common cold as well as more serious illnesses such as Sars.