World

Six dead as Wuhan coronavirus infections spread

WHO expects more cases but Chinese expert believes there will not be a Sars-like outbreak

BEIJING: The death toll from the coronavirus outbreak in China climbed to six yesterday as the authorities reported a surge in new cases.

China's National Health Commission (NHC) put the number of confirmed cases at 291 by the end of Monday, but individual provinces gave more up-to-date information yesterday showing a widening geographic spread.

Wuhan, the capital of Hubei province, has confirmed 258 cases and six deaths, Mayor Zhou Xianwang told Chinese state television yesterday.

The NHC said another 14 cases were reported in the southern province of Guangdong, five in the capital Beijing and another two in Shanghai by the end of Monday.

It got worse yesterday, after authorities confirmed that the virus had spread to more parts of the country, with the eastern province of Zhejiang reporting five cases, and the northern city of Tianjin reporting two, Reuters reported.

On Monday, Chinese officials had confirmed for the first time that the virus was contagious between humans and that 15 medical staff had been infected.

The virus has also crossed international borders - a total of five cases have been reported in South Korea, Thailand, Japan and Taiwan. Australia and the Philippines have reported a suspected case each.

British newspapers have reported that a British man who developed pneumonia while in Phi Phi Island in Phuket may have been infected by the virus.

Mr Ashley Shorley, 32, who was rushed to a Phuket hospital on Dec 27 last year, has since been transferred to Bangkok.

"More cases should be expected in other parts of China and possibly other countries in the coming days," said WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic.

Asked about the reason for the expected new cases, Mr Jasarevic said they would appear as China steps up monitoring. "If you increase surveillance and testing you are likely to get new numbers," he added.

Airport authorities in the United States as well as most Asian nations are screening passengers from Wuhan.

SARS

Compared with Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (Sars), experts believe the symptoms for the Wuhan flu appear to be less aggressive.

Renowned Chinese scientist Zhong Nanshan, who discovered the Sars coronavirus in 2003, believes the Wuhan virus will not evolve into a massive outbreak similar in scale to the Sars outbreak 17 years ago.

"We identified the new coronavirus just two weeks after the outbreak was reported, and we have very good virus monitoring and quarantine measures," said Dr Zhong, who heads a high-level team in the NHC.

Dr Zeng Guang, chief epidemiologist at the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, said the outbreak is still at an early stage, China Daily reported.

He said it is very likely it can be contained through intensified efforts at this stage, but coordinated prevention and control efforts nationwide are necessary.

"With proper public health measures, the trend of an increasing number of cases can be reversed," he added.

The scare stirred spooked global markets, with Asia particularly hit. Hong Kong, which suffered badly during the Sars outbreak, saw its index fall 2.8%. Japan's Nikkei lost 0.9% and Shanghai blue chips 1.7%.

WORLD