World

China says 17 more infected with new coronavirus strain

Not all cases linked to Huanan seafood market; Wuhan to restrict big gatherings

BEIJING: China said yesterday that 17 more people had become infected with a new coronavirus strain, fanning fears it will spread further as hundreds of millions of people travel to celebrate the upcoming Chinese New Year.

Three of those patients are seriously ill, according to a statement issued by the health commission in the central city of Wuhan, where all 62 of the cases in China have occurred.

Two people have died. Two cases have also been reported in Thailand and one in Japan - each involving people who travelled from Wuhan.

Wuhan officials have been providing updates on new cases almost daily since Jan 11, and 17 is the highest number reported since then.

The World Health Organisation said in a tweet yesterday that some of the new cases appear not to be linked to the Huanan seafood market, believed to the centre of the outbreak.

Due to China's efforts to implement broader screening, new cases may be identified in the coming days and weeks, it added.

"The fact that three cases have been exported to Thailand and Japan without connection to the Huanan Seafood Market suggests that the virus has spread beyond the Huanan Seafood Market into the community," said Mr David Hui, a professor of respiratory medicine at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Wuhan will strengthen oversight of large-scale events and reduce the number of activities that involve public gatherings, state media quoted Wuhan's deputy mayor Chen Yanxin as saying yesterday.

Wuhan officials said that since Tuesday they have been using infrared thermometers at airports, railway stations and other passenger terminals in the city to strengthen screening.

Airport authorities in the US as well as most Asian nations are also screening passengers from Wuhan.

SARS

The new virus is from the same large family of coronaviruses that includes Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (Sars), which killed nearly 800 people globally during a 2002/03 outbreak that also started in China.

Although experts say the new virus does not appear to be as lethal as Sars, there is little known about its origins and how easily it can spread.

A report published by the London Imperial College's MRC Centre for Global Infectious Disease Analysis on Friday said there are likely to be "substantially more cases". It estimated that by Jan 12 there were 1,723 cases in Wuhan with onset of related symptoms.

The 17 new patients began exhibiting symptoms such as a fever or cough before last Monday.

News about the outbreak was trending on Weibo, a microblogging platform in China,yesterday morning. Weibo regularly filters content that is deemed sensitive.

There has been some local-level censorship however. Two individuals told Reuters they were ordered by the police to remove social media posts.

Many on social media shared the news and called on others to be careful, as travel is increasing during the one-week Chinese New Year holidays that begin on Friday. - REUTERS

WORLD