COVID-19 has the ability to mutate into new strains of the disease which potentially pose greater health risks, a local health expert has explained.

However, a container ship anchored off the Sunshine Coast that carried a person who tested positive to a new strain of coronavirus is unlikely to pose any threat to the community.

The latest advice comes from University of the Sunshine Coast infection prevention and control expert Matt Mason who explained that like any virus, the genetics of coronavirus allow it to mutate.

Mr Mason said it was possible the other crew members aboard would also test positive, given the close quarters on a container ship.

These crew members have been tested and it is understood none have returned positive readings to date.

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"While the ship is quarantined out to sea, there is no real way of it getting out to the community," Mr Mason said.

"But it's a small enclosed space on a ship so it is possible there will be more cases. If these do occur, they would be brought off the ship and managed like any other case.

"We have to be realistic and understand that cases like this will occur while the disease is prominent globally.

"But keep in mind, our testing and tracing system is working as is the cooperation between Australian and New Zealand health departments."

Mr Mason said he knew of at least half a dozen strains of the virus but said there could easily be more.

He could only speculate to how this strain had not yet been detected, but said it may have come from a country that did not have the testing capacity of Australia or New Zealand.

"We know this container ship essentially does a circuit of the Pacific Islands, New Caledonia, PNG and some of the crew came from the Philippines where there is a fair bit of COVID-19," he said.

"This strain is not known to New Zealand or Australia, so it may have originated from somewhere without full genomic testing."

WHAT THE NEW STRAIN COULD MEAN

Mr Mason said new strains of the virus were expected, similar to new strains of influenza which circulated in the community each year.

"But we don't know this particular variant. We don't yet have that information," he said.

"We don't know if it spreads quicker, causes more illness and more death.

"They are some of the issues that can change.

"However, some mutations cause less problems, so it's more of a worry if it gets worse."



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