A SARS-like virus has killed a third person, spread around China and reached another Asian country, authorities said Monday, fuelling fears of a major outbreak as millions begin travelling for the Lunar New Year in humanity’s biggest migration.
The new coronavirus strain, first discovered in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, has caused alarm because of its connection to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, which killed nearly 650 people across mainland China and Hong Kong in 2002-2003.
Wuhan has 11 million inhabitants and serves as a major transport hub, including during the annual Lunar New Year holiday which begins later this week and sees hundreds of millions of Chinese people travel across the country to visit family.
Weighing in on the matter for the first time, Chinese president Xi Jinping said Monday that safeguarding people’s lives should be given ‘top priority’ and that the spread of the epidemic ‘should be resolutely contained’, according to state broadcaster CCTV.
Xi said it was necessary to ‘release information on the epidemic in a timely manner and deepen international cooperation,’ and ensure people have a ‘stable and peaceful Spring
Festival’, the broadcaster said.
The total number of people diagnosed with the virus rose to 218, as Shanghai confirmed its first case on Monday and 136 new cases were found over the weekend in Wuhan, 15 in southern Guangdong province and five in Beijing, according to CCTV.
A third person died in Wuhan, the local health commission said.
According to Shanghai’s health commission, its first case — a 56-year-old woman who was hospitalised last Wednesday — also came from Wuhan.
The patient’s vital signs are stable and two of her close contacts are under medical observation, it said through its official Twitter-like Weibo account.
South Korea on Monday also reported its first case — a 35-year-old woman who flew in from Wuhan. Thailand and Japan have previously confirmed a total of three cases — all of whom had visited the Chinese city.
No human-to-human transmission has been confirmed so far, but authorities have not ruled out the possibility.
There are also six suspected cases in Shanghai and four provinces and regions in the east, south and southwest of the country.
In Hong Kong, health officials announced they were expanding their enhanced checks on arrivals to include anyone coming in from Hubei province, not just Wuhan, its capital. More than 100 people are being monitored in the city.
Passengers are also being screened at some airports in Thailand and the United States.
In Wuhan, 170 people are still being treated at hospital, including nine in critical condition, the city health commission said, adding that 25 people have been discharged so far.
Chinese state media moved to calm the mood as discussion about the coronavirus spreading to other Chinese cities swelled on social media.
Nationalist tabloid Global Times called for better handling of the new virus than that of the 2003 SARS outbreak.
The foreign ministry said Monday that Beijing had informed the WHO and other countries about the virus ‘in a timely manner’.
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