China Confirms Human-to-Human Transmission of SARS-like Virus
A mysterious SARS-like respiratory virus can be transmitted between humans, a Chinese government-appointed expert said. The virus spread across China and reached three other Asian nations, fueling fears about the possibility of an epidemic as millions prepare to travel for the Lunar New Year holiday. A third person died from the virus that emerged in December, China announced on Monday.
The new coronavirus strain, first discovered in the central city of Wuhan in December, has affected three Asian countries: Japan, Thailand, and South Korea. The number of confirmed cases across the four countries rose to 221, of which 217 were registered in China.
The Chinese health authorities have announced first coronavirus infections outside the large city of Wuhan, including five cases in Beijing (north) and 14 in the southern Guangdong Province bordering Hong Kong, AFP reported.
Weighing in on the matter for the first time, President Xi Jinping said Monday that the spread of the epidemic "should be resolutely contained," according to CCTV. South Korea also reported its first case, a 35-year-old woman who flew in from Wuhan on Sunday.
The South Korean health authorities said the woman visited a hospital in Wuhan to treat cold symptoms, before arriving at Seoul Airport, where her symptoms were spotted, and she was quarantined.
The virus raises increasing fears after the death of a third person last weekend since the outbreak of the disease, and with a noticeable increase in the number of new cases in Wuhan (140 new cases, 198 cases in total), 9 of them are critical. Scientists seek to determine how the disease is being transmitted, and Wuhan seafood market is believed to be the source of the virus.
But Zhong Nanshan, a renowned scientist at the National Health Commission who helped expose the scale of the SARS outbreak, said patients could contract the new virus without having visited the city.
"Currently, it can be said it is affirmative that there is the phenomenon of human-to-human transmission", he noted.
In Guangdong, two patients were infected by family members who visited Wuhan, Zhong explained.
Fourteen medical personnel helping with coronavirus patients have also been infected, and more than 95 of the total cases were related to Wuhan.
The World Health Organization said earlier an animal source seemed to be "the most likely primary source" with "some limited human-to-human transmission occurring between close contacts".
The spread of the virus coincides with the Chinese New Year celebrations, the most crowded period in the country. Hundreds of millions are traveling on buses, trains, and planes to visit their families before the holiday on January 25. Despite the risk of an outbreak, the authorities haven't imposed restrictions on the use of public transport yet.