The death toll from a mysterious flu-like virus in China rose to six on Tuesday when new cases rose beyond 300 and authorities worried about the additional risk of millions of Chinese traveling during the Lunar New Year holidays .
Around the world, airports intensified the detection of travelers from China, as authorities confirmed that the coronavirus strain is contagious among humans.
The World Health Organization (WHO) convened a meeting on Wednesday to consider declaring a global health emergency.
The outbreak, which began in the central city of Wuhan, also caused chills in financial markets when investors recalled the consequences of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak in 2002/2003 that it initially covered.
The SARS coronavirus killed almost 800 people at that time.
“We will stay at home during the holidays. I am scared because I remember SARS very well,” said Zhang Xinyuan, who had traveled from Beijing to the Thai resort of Phuket before she and her husband decided to cancel their air tickets. .
Authorities have confirmed more than 300 cases in China, mainly in Wuhan, a provincial capital and transportation hub, where the virus may have originated in a seafood market.
There have been six deaths in that city, Mayor Zhou Xianwang told Chinese state television on Tuesday.
However, the virus has spread to other parts of China, including five cases in the national capital, Beijing. Fifteen medical personnel are among those infected.
Abroad, Thailand has reported two cases and South Korea one case, all related to Wuhan Chinese travelers. Japan and Taiwan also confirmed one case each, both nationals who had been in Wuhan.
“Information on recently reported infections suggests that there may now be sustained transmission from person to person,” said WHO regional director for the Western Pacific, Takeshi Kasai.
Taiwan, the autonomous island that China claims as its own, established an epidemic response command center on Monday. More than 1,000 beds were prepared in isolation rooms in case the virus spread further.
The growing anxiety was transmitted to regional markets.
The yuan on land of China fell 0.6%, its biggest daily decline since August 26, 2019, while airline and travel shares fell across the region.
European stocks also slipped over concerns about the impact of the outbreak, and luxury goods firms were particularly affected by concerns about lower demand from Chinese consumers.
Although the origin of the virus had not yet been identified, WHO said the main source was probably animal. Chinese authorities have linked the outbreak with the Wuhan seafood market.
The virus can cause pneumonia, with symptoms that include fever and difficulty breathing. Since these symptoms are similar to many other respiratory diseases, an additional examination is needed.
“The outbreak of a coronavirus similar to SARS in Wuhan is becoming a great potential economic risk for the Asia-Pacific region now that there is medical evidence of person-to-person transmission,” said Rajiv Biswas, chief economist at Asia Pacific for IHS Mark it.
So far, WHO has not recommended trade or travel restrictions, but such measures could be discussed at Wednesday’s meeting.
The National Health Commission of China will also give an update at a press conference at 10 a.m. (0200 GMT) on Wednesday.
Rush for masks
Airports in the United States, Australia and throughout Asia have begun inspecting passengers from Wuhan.
In the city itself, authorities have been using infrared thermometers to detect passengers at airports, railway stations and other passenger terminals since January 14.
The Lunar New Year is an important holiday for the Chinese, many of whom travel to reunite with their family or have a holiday abroad.
The images of long lines of people queuing to buy facial masks circulated widely in Chinese social networks.
Some online sellers were limiting sales of masks and hand sanitizers as demand increased.
The Shanghai city market regulator warned that it would punish speculators who treasure masks or other products used to prevent disease, according to the Shanghai Observer, a web publication backed by a Communist Party newspaper.
But Zhong Nanshan, head of the National Health Commission team investigating the outbreak, tried to calm the alarm, saying that in the images shown on state television there was no danger of the SARS epidemic recurring whenever precautions were taken.
Chinese travel reservation platforms from Trip.com to Alibaba Group’s Fliggy said they would offer free cancellations on reservations made for Wuhan.
T’Way Air stops launch due to virus concerns
South Korean economic airline T’way Air postponed the scheduled launch of a new route to the Chinese city of Wuhan on Tuesday due to growing concerns over the spread of a new coronavirus, a company official said.
On Monday, South Korea reported its first confirmed case of the virus from a 35-year-old Chinese citizen who flew from Wuhan to Seoul on Sunday.
T’way had been scheduled for the first of its flights twice a week from the main center of South Korea from Incheon to Wuhan at 1020 p.m. (1320 GMT) but canceled its plans due to the outbreak, the company official said.
“It was an inevitable decision due to the situation there,” the official told Reuters, adding that he would continue to monitor the events.
The move came amid spiraling fears about the virus, which could spread through human contact, with millions of Asians traveling during the Lunar New Year holidays this week. In China, the number of confirmed cases increased to 291 on Monday.
An official with Korean Air Lines, the only other South Korean airline that operates direct flights to Wuhan, said the company had no plans to suspend its route, which operates four times a week, but will not apply the ticket cancellation fees for passengers They travel to the city.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in South Korea on Tuesday warned tourists against contact with animals and people who show respiratory symptoms and market visits in China.
President Moon Jae-in instructed local authorities to intensify prevention efforts, and many South Koreans living in China are expected to return to their homes and some 32 million travel around the country during the holidays until next week.