Ahead of holiday, China gears up to contain virus outbreak

17 new cases emerge; fears of travellers spreading infection.

China will step up efforts to contain the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan ahead of the Lunar New Year holidays. With 17 new cases of the virus having been confirmed, fears have risen that the virus could spread to other countries. Three of the new patients are seriously ill.

The National Health Commission said on January 10 that departments should work together to carry out preventative measures.

“Our Commission will step up our guard during the Spring Festival, pay close attention to the development and change of the epidemic, and direct the implementation of prevention and control measures,” the Commission said.

Many of China’s 1.4 billion people will travel domestically and abroad during the Lunar New Year break that begins next week, raising concerns about the virus spreading.

Wuhan’s health authority earlier on January 19 confirmed 17 more cases of the virus in the city, bringing the total number of known patients there to 62.

Two people have died from the virus in the city, the largest in central China.

Three cases of the infection have been confirmed abroad — two in Thailand and one in Japan — involving people from Wuhan or those who recently visited the city.

China, the World Health Organisation and authorities across the globe are stepping up efforts to contain the virus, which initially emerged in Wuhan in late December 2019 as a wave of pneumonia patients.

The virus belongs in the same family of coronaviruses as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which killed nearly 800 people globally during a 2002-03 outbreak that also started in China.

Though some experts say the new virus may not be as deadly as SARS, there is still little known about it including its origin and how easily it can be transmitted between humans.

The WHO said on January 19 that some of the new cases appear not to be linked to the Huanan seafood market, believed earlier to be the centre of the outbreak. Due to China’s efforts to implement broader screening, new cases may be identified in the coming days and weeks, the WHO added.

“The fact that three cases have been exported to Thailand and Japan without connection to the Huanan Seafood Market suggests that the virus has spread beyond the Huanan Seafood Market into the community,” said David Hui, a professor of respiratory medicine at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Wuhan will strengthen oversight of big events and reduce the number of public gatherings, state media quoted Chen Yanxin, the city’s deputy mayor as saying on January 19.

Wuhan officials said since January 14 they are using infrared thermometers at airports, railway stations and other passenger terminals in the city to strengthen screening. Airport authorities in the United States as well as most Asian nations are screening passengers from Wuhan.

A report by the London Imperial College’s MRC Centre for Global Infectious Disease Analysis said there are likely to be “substantially more cases”. It estimated that by January 12 there were 1,723 cases in Wuhan City with onset of related symptoms.

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