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COVID-19: a report from Melbourne, Australia

Medical Scientist Eileen Kelly reports on the impact of COVID-19 in Melbourne and the way the pandemic has been dealt with.

Melbourne is the second largest city in Australia, with a population of almost five million. It has excellent universities and medical research centres. One of these, the Doherty Institute, named after Peter Doherty, the Nobel Prize winner specialising in immunology, has played a leading role in the story of COVID-19.

Back in January, the main focus of the public mind was on bushfires – Australia had suffered massively and the whole of summer had been one of dread. There is a Royal Commission currently underway to establish what we can do better.

We knew about an outbreak of a coronavirus in Wuhan; there was talk of a SARS-like illness. We tookmore notice when some of our workmates, who had gone home for Chinese New Year, had to self-isolate for two weeks after returning to Melbourne.

The scientists at the Doherty Institute were much more vigilant. They had a test up and running by January 15. A return traveller from China was confirmed to have COVID-19 on January 25. Julien Druce, a senior scientist at the Doherty Institute’s Victorian Infectious Diseases Reference Laboratory (VIDRL), managed to culture the virus. VIDRL uploaded the genome sequence to the international database and shared samples of the virus.

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