Pandemic fears grow as China virus death toll up

Thursday, January 23rd, 2020 00:00 |
Commuters wear face masks at Yichang East Railway Station, in Hubei, yesterday. China is striving to contain a new virus that has spread across the country. Photo/AFP

Beijing, Wednesday

A new virus that has killed nine people, infected hundreds and reached the United States could mutate and spread, China warned Wednesday.

Chinese authorities urged people to stop travelling in and out of Wuhan, the city at the centre of the virus outbreak.

The virus has spread from the central Chinese city of Wuhan, in Hubei, to Beijing, Shanghai, Macau, Hong Kong, and beyond to the United States, Thailand, South Korea, Japan and Taiwan.

The coronavirus has caused alarm because of its similarity to SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), which killed nearly 650 people across mainland China and Hong Kong in 2002-2003.

With hundreds of millions of people travelling across China this week for the Lunar New Year holiday, the National Health Commission announced measures to contain the disease—including sterilisation and ventilation at airports and bus stations, as well as inside planes and trains.

In Wuhan, large public events were cancelled and international football matches were moved to new location.

Visitors were urged to stay away, while residents were advised to not to leave the central city of 11 million people.

The illness is mainly transmitted via the respiratory tract and there “is the possibility of viral mutation and further spread of the disease”, health commission vice minister Li Bin told journalists in Beijing.

The virus has now infected at least 440 people across the country, with most cases in Wuhan. Li added that 1,394 people are still under medical observation.

The World Health Organization (WHO) started an emergency meeting Wednesday to determine whether to declare a rare global public health emergency over the disease, which has now been detected in the United States, Taiwan, Thailand, Japan, South Korea and Macau.

The first case in the US—a Seattle resident in his 30s—is in good condition, officials said.

The Chinese government has classified the outbreak in the same category as the SARS epidemic, meaning compulsory isolation for those diagnosed with the illness and the potential to implement quarantine measures.

But they still have not been able to confirm the exact source of the virus.

“We will step up research efforts to identify the source and transmission of the disease,” Li said, although he said experts believe “the cases are mostly linked to Wuhan”.

A prominent expert confirmed this week that the virus can be passed between people. However, animals are suspected to be the primary source of the outbreak.

Health authorities are urging people to wash their hands regularly, avoid crowded places, get plenty of fresh air and wear a mask if they have a cough.

Anyone with a cough or fever was urged to go to hospital. Surgical masks and antibacterial products were starting to sell out on some popular online sites and pharmacies. -AFP

More on News