Lockdown of millions of people unprecedented in public health history.
- Non-fatal cases have been found in at least six other countries
- China shuts down transport in eight cities around virus epicentre
- The previously unknown virus strain is believed to have emerged from illegally traded wildlife at an animal market in Wuhan
- There is no vaccine for the SARS-like virus, which can spread through respiratory transmission
- Symptoms include fever, difficulty breathing and coughing
A new coronavirus has killed 25 people in China and infected more than 800, the government said on Friday, as the World Health Organisation declared it an emergency but stopped short of declaring the epidemic of international concern.
China’s National Health Commission said 830 cases had been confirmed so far and 25 people had died as of Thursday.
Most of the cases are in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, where the virus is believed to have originated late last year.
Hong Kong and British scientists have estimated that between 1,300 and 1,700 people in the city may have been infected.
Non-fatal cases have been found in at least six other countries.
The city of Macau, a gambling hub hugely popular with mainland tourists, has confirmed two cases. The first was a 52-year-old businesswoman from Wuhan who arrived in Macau by high-speed rail on Sunday, via the neighbouring city of Zhuhai.
As of Thursday, two people have tested positive in Hong Kong. Both had visited Wuhan in recent days and are being treated on isolation wards in hospital.
On Jan 16, Japan’s health ministry confirmed its first case – a man who had visited Wuhan and was hospitalised on Jan 10, four days after his return to Japan.
Health authorities confirmed a second case on Friday, Kyodo news agency reported, saying the patient was a man in his 40s who was originally from Wuhan and on a trip to Japan.
Singapore on Thursday confirmed its first case – a 66-year-old man from Wuhan who arrived in Singapore with his family on Monday.
South Korea reported its first case on Jan 20 – a 35-year-old woman who flew in from Wuhan.
On Jan 22, authorities confirmed a first case on the self-ruled island of Taiwan – a Taiwanese woman in her fifties, living in Wuhan, who returned to the island on Monday with symptoms including fever, coughing and a sore throat.
Thailand has detected two cases – a 74-year-old Chinese woman, who is being treated at hospital after presenting with symptoms at Thailand’s biggest airport Suvarnabhumi on Jan 13.
On Jan 8, a Chinese traveller was diagnosed with mild pneumonia that was later confirmed to have been caused by the coronavirus.
On Jan 21, the United States announced its first case – a man in his 30s living near Seattle. Officials say he is in a good condition and approached authorities himself after reading about the virus in news reports.
Two cases have been confirmed so far in Vietnam – a Chinese man living in Ho Chi Minh City was infected by his father who travelled to Vietnam on Jan 13 from the Chinese city of Wuhan.
Health officials fear the transmission rate could accelerate as hundreds of millions of Chinese travel at home and abroad during week-long holidays for the Lunar New Year, which begins on Saturday.
Nonetheless, it was a “bit too early” to consider the outbreak a “Public Health Emergency of International Concern,” WHO Emergency Committee panel chair Didier Houssin said after the body met in Geneva.
Such a designation would have required countries to step up the international response.
“Make no mistake, though, this is an emergency in China,” said WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
“It has not yet become a global health emergency. It may yet become one,” he said.
Scrambling to contain the outbreak, the local government in Wuhan, a city of 11 million people in Hubei province, suspended most transport on Thursday, including outgoing flights, and people were told not to leave.
“The lockdown of 11 million people is unprecedented in public health history,” said Gauden Galea, the WHO’s representative in Beijing.
Hours later, neighbouring Huanggang, a city of about 7 million people, announced similar measures.
Huangshi, with a population of 2.4 million, became the latest city in Hubei province to shut transport routes today as it closed a ferry terminal and bridge over the Yangtze River, and suspended public transport.
The move followed the suspension of long-distance passenger buses, tourist coaches and public transport from yesterday night in Qianjiang, a city in central Hubei with a population of nearly one million people.
Other cities with travel restrictions include Xiantao, a city of 1.5 million, and Chibi, which has some 500,000 people, which will close toll station entrances and halt transport routes.
The cities of Ezhou, Huanggang and Lichuan have also announced travel restrictions.
Hubei province authorities said they were calling off cultural performances and public cultural venues.
Travel agencies in the province have suspended business activities, and are no longer organising tour groups, authorities said in an announcement today.
From 0400 GMT, the province will also stop operating online taxis and impose passenger restrictions on taxis on the roads.
The previously unknown virus strain is believed to have emerged from illegally traded wildlife at an animal market in Wuhan.
It has created 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.
It is too early to know just how dangerous it is and how easily it spreads between people.
There is no vaccine for the virus, which can spread through respiratory transmission.
Symptoms include fever, difficulty breathing and coughing.
Jan 23, Wuhan Under Quarantine