KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 21 — Chinese authorities confirmed today that a new respiratory virus that has killed four in Wuhan and infected over 200 in China can be transmitted by humans.
CNN reported Zhong Nanshan, head of the team set up by China’s National Health Commission to investigate the novel coronavirus, as saying that at least two cases had been spread between people and medical staff were also infected.
“The current cases show there is definitely human-to-human transmission,” Zhong was quoted telling China’s CCTV, noting that two people in the Guangdong province were infected by a family member who returned from Wuhan.
The fourth victim of the mysterious outbreak, whose death was reported today, was an 89-year-old man who fell sick on January 13 and was hospitalised with breathing difficulties five days later, dying the next day. He also reportedly suffered from other diseases like high blood pressure, diabetes, and coronary heart disease, according to Channel News Asia.
China reported yesterday that the number of pneumonia cases with the coronavirus, whose origins are still unknown, tripled last weekend to 218. The outbreak has spread hundreds of miles from the central Chinese city of Wuhan, when the virus broke out last month, to the capital Beijing, Shanghai, and Shenzhen.
The global total of the coronavirus cases has hit 222, including two cases in Thailand, and one each in Japan and South Korea, according to CNN.
An Imperial College London study reportedly suggested that the number of infections in Wuhan were probably vastly underestimated.
“The detection of three cases outside China is worrying. We calculate, based on flight and population data, that there is only a 1 in 574 chance that a person infected in Wuhan would travel overseas before they sought medical care. This implies there might have been over 1,700 cases in Wuhan so far,” Imperial College London’s Neil Ferguson, a disease outbreak scientist, told CNN.
World Health Organization (WHO) director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus announced today that he was convening an emergency committee tomorrow to determine if the new coronavirus constituted an international public health emergency.
The tripling of the pneumonia outbreak came ahead of Chinese New Year this weekend, as hundreds of millions of Chinese prepare to travel around China and overseas.
According to the WHO, the coronavirus could be caused by a newly emerging member of the family of viruses that caused the deadly Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak — which infected over 8,000 people and killed almost 800 in 2003 worldwide, including a significant number in China.