BEIJING / SHANGHAI (Reuters) – Authorities in China and beyond intensified efforts to control an outbreak of a new flu-like coronavirus on Wednesday, while the death toll rose to nine with 440 confirmed cases, while suspicion of that the virus crossed humans from animals
China discouraged public meetings in Hubei province, where the virus emerged last month, and tightened containment measures in hospitals, while the World Health Organization (WHO) had to hold an emergency meeting to determine whether the outbreak was a global health emergency.
The virus has spread from the central Chinese city of Wuhan, in Hubei, to Beijing, Shanghai, Macao, Hong Kong and beyond to the United States, Thailand, South Korea, Japan and Taiwan.
The Chinese government has provided updates on the number of cases in an attempt to avoid panic, as hundreds of millions of people prepare to travel in their country and abroad for the Lunar New Year celebrations starting this week.
“The increase in public mobility has objectively increased the risk of spreading the epidemic and the difficulty of prevention and control,” Deputy Minister of the National Health Commission, Li Bin, told reporters.
There was evidence that the virus was spreading through “respiratory transmission,” Li said. And, the general director of the China Disease Control and Prevention Center, Gao Fu, said the virus was adapting and mutating, underlining the challenges for health authorities.
Some 2,197 people who came into contact with infected people were kept in isolation, while 765 were released by observation.
“There has been a great change in the number of cases, which is related to our deeper understanding of the disease, improving diagnostic methods and optimizing the distribution of diagnostic kits,” said Li.
The symptoms of the virus, which can cause pneumonia, include fever, cough and shortness of breath.
There is no vaccine against the virus, which can be passed from person to person. Fifteen medical personnel are among those infected in China.
Fear of a pandemic similar to an outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) that started in China and killed nearly 800 people in 2002-2003 has shaken the world markets, with aviation and luxury goods stocks particularly hit and The fall of the Chinese yuan.
WHO SAYS MORE EXPECTED CASES
Companies across China, from Foxconn (2317.TW) to Huawei Technologies [HWT.UL] and HSBC Holdings (HSBA.L), they warned staff to avoid Wuhan and distribute masks.
Terry Gou, the billionaire founder of Apple (AAPL.O) Foxconn provider said he was recommending company employees not to visit China during the holidays.
WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic said new cases of coronaviruses would appear as China intensified monitoring.
Li said there was no evidence of “super propagators” capable of spreading the virus more widely, as happened during the SARS outbreak.
Health authorities are still trying to determine the origin of the virus, which authorities say came from a market in Wuhan where wildlife was illegally traded. It was believed that SARS had crossed humans from civet cats sold for food in China.
The WHO says that an animal source seems to be the main source of this outbreak.
Taiwan confirmed on Tuesday its first case of the coronavirus, a woman returning from Wuhan.
The island’s president, Tsai Ing-wen, asked China to share “correct” information about the virus and that WHO does not exclude Taiwan from collaboration in the outbreak for political reasons.
Taiwan is not a member of WHO due to China’s objection, which considers the island a Chinese province without the right to participate in international organizations unless it accepts that it is part of China.
Like Australia, Taiwan warned citizens to avoid Wuhan, while prohibiting the city’s tourist groups.
Airports around the world have intensified the detection of travelers from China.
The Macau game center, ruled by the Chinese, confirmed its first case of coronavirus-related pneumonia and hardened body temperature detection measures in casinos and around the city.
A first case of the virus emerged in nearby Hong Kong on Wednesday, the media reported. The patient arrived in Hong Kong via a high-speed train from the mainland and had been quarantined, the media said.
The city’s secretary of commerce, Edward Yau, said the previous authorities were on high alert.
“Everyone is watching,” Yau told Reuters at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos.
Several foreign tour operators said that North Korea banned foreign tourists since Wednesday due to the virus, losing one of its main sources of foreign exchange.
Some qualifying boxing matches for the 2020 Olympics that will be held in Wuhan in February were canceled, Japanese news agency Kyodo said.
Hong Kong Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd (0293.HK) said he would allow hostesses to wear surgical masks while traveling to mainland China.
Cathay said the charges for reservation change, route change and refund will not apply to all tickets to or from Wuhan until February 15. China’s aviation regulator has told continental airlines to reimburse or change flights to Wuhan free of charge.
Reports by Cate Cadell and David Stanway; additional reports by Anne Marie Roantree; Michael Perry edition, Robert Birsel