BEIJING – Japan on Thursday reported its first case of a new coronavirus that has made 41 people sick in China, adding to concerns about the spread of the virus outside the Chinese borders before a major holiday.
A Chinese man in his 30s tested positive for the new coronavirus, the Japanese health ministry said Thursday. The man, who was a resident of Kanagawa Prefecture, had returned to Japan on January 6 after traveling to the central Chinese city of Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak. The man was hospitalized on January 10, but was released five days later because he had recovered, according to the ministry of health.
Japan’s health ministry said the patient had not visited any seafood market in China. The World Health Organization had said that it was very likely that the virus had spread from a seafood market in Wuhan, which also sold live fish, animals and birds.
“It is possible that the patient had close contact with an unknown patient with pulmonary inflammation while in China,” Japan’s health ministry said in a statement.
It was the second confirmed case of the new coronavirus reported outside of China in the last week. In Thailand, authorities also detected the country’s first case on Monday in a 61-year-old Chinese woman.
Dr. Sopon Iamsirithaworn, director of the communicable diseases division of the Thai Ministry of Public Health, said the woman had not visited the seafood market either. However, the doctor said the woman went to a smaller wet market near where she lives.
The woman who tested positive is now in good health, according to Dr. Suthat Chottanapund., a senior official of the disease control department of the Thai Ministry of Health. But he said health authorities are waiting until laboratories confirm that she is free of the coronavirus before discharge. She said she wanted to do some tourism after being discharged, she said.
The revelations that both patients in Japan and Thailand had not visited any seafood market are worrying signs that the outbreak could extend beyond people who had contact with the market.
The alarm is growing throughout the region after Chinese health authorities said in late December that a mysterious new virus had caused dozens of people to get sick in Wuhan. Wuhan’s health commission said Wednesday that the risk of rapid spread of the virus among humans is low, but it cannot rule out the possibility of transmission of the virus from person to person. Authorities also said they detected the first group of the virus that involved family members.
The World Health Organization has reiterated that there is no evidence of transmission of the virus from person to person.
While the new coronavirus appears to be less virulent and deadly than the virus that caused the severe acute respiratory syndrome outbreak in 2003, many questions remain. Experts say they want to know how the virus was transmitted to humans and the incubation period of patients. The last case in China was detected on January 3 and the minimum incubation period for some viral infections is 15 days, suggesting that it may take a few more days before the authorities can determine the full extent of the disease.
That has fueled concerns among governments throughout the region, especially before the Lunar New Year holidays, which begins next week, when hundreds of millions of people in China travel.
Ben Dooley contributed reporting from Tokyo. Hannah Beech and Muktita Suhartono contributed reports from Bangkok. Elsie Chen contributed research from Beijing.