Wuhan virus: China warns disease may spread as cases rise to 440 with 9 deaths, China News

BEIJINGChina warned on Wednesday (Jan 22) that a Sars-like virus could mutate and spread as the death toll rose to nine and the number of cases reached 440 in 13 provinces across the country.

Another 2,197 cases of close contact with patients had been confirmed and there was evidence of  “respiratory transmission” of the virus, National Health Commission vice-minister Li Bin told reporters.

He added there “is the possibility of viral mutation and further spread of the disease“.

The commission announced measures to contain the disease as hundreds of millions of people travel across the country for this week’s Chinese New Year holiday, including disinfection and ventilation at airports, train stations and shopping centres. 

“When needed, temperature checks will also be implemented in key areas at crowded places,” the commission said in a statement. 

As China also vowed to tighten containment measures in hospitals, the World Health Organization (WHO) is due to hold an emergency meeting on Wednesday to determine whether the outbreak of the new coronavirus constitutes a global health emergency.  

The epicentre of the outbreak is the central Chinese city of Wuhan, where the authorities have stepped up fever checks at the airport, train stations and highways, while a major Chinese New Year event that draws hundreds of thousands of people was cancelled.

The virus has been detected in some other Asian countries, and the United States confirmed its first case on Tuesday. 

Mr Li also suggested that residents of  Wuhan, the epicentre of the outbreak, remain in the city, adding that live animals were not allowed to enter the city.

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Wuhan virus: Public hospitals in Singapore in 'outbreak response mode'

Police were conducting spot checks for live poultry or wild animals in vehicles leaving and entering the city, state media said. 

The local government has cancelled public activities during the holiday, including the annual prayer-giving at the city’s Guiyan Temple – which attracted 700,000 tourists during last year’s holiday.

Tour groups heading out of the city have also been cancelled.

China also would step up cooperation with the WHO, Mr Li added.

“I’m not sure that we could expect more of them at this stage in the outbreak, particularly when they are understandably focused on responding to the outbreak and trying to contain it ahead of the Chinese Lunar New Year celebrations,” said Mr Adam Kamradt-Scott, an infectious diseases expert at the Centre for International Security Studies at the University of Sydney

Fears of a pandemic similar to the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (Sars) outbreak that started in China and killed nearly 800 people in 2002-2003 have roiled global markets, with aviation and luxury goods stocks hit particularly hard and the Chinese yuan tumbling. 

The WHO said on Tuesday the new coronavirus was likely to spread to other parts of China and possibly other countries in coming days. 

WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic said new cases would appear as China stepped up monitoring.

“If you increase surveillance and testing you are likely to get new numbers,” he added. 

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