China warns infectivity of new coronavirus getting stronger

27, Jan. 2020


BEIJING, Kyodo - China warned Sunday that the ability to spread of a new coronavirus that has killed around 60 people is "getting stronger," saying it is "possible" that the number of cases of infections will continue to grow as the risks of the new virus mutating remain unclear.

The death toll in China from the new pneumonia-causing coronavirus originating in Wuhan, Hubei Province, has risen to 56, the Chinese government said earlier in the day, with more deaths in the province and Shanghai confirming its first fatality.

The country now has more than 2,000 confirmed cases of infection with the new virus strain, according to official media. The spread of the virus accelerated ahead of the Friday start of China's weeklong Lunar New Year holidays -- usually a busy travel period.

At a press conference in Beijing, the health authorities emphasized that the spread of infections can be curbed if measures are effectively implemented, but they added that knowledge of the new coronavirus has been quite limited so far.

(People wear masks in Beijing during the Lunar New Year holiday period on Jan. 25, 2020.)
(People wear masks in Beijing during the Lunar New Year holiday period on Jan. 25, 2020.)

In order to prevent the further expansion of infections, the Chinese government will boost purchases of protection suits from overseas, as Wuhan, with a population of over 10 million, has faced shortages of them, the authorities said.

The authorities said they will hold a press briefing every morning from Monday, as Chinese President Xi Jinping has pledged to take "decisive" steps to contain the spread of the mysterious, deadly coronavirus.

Hubei's government said 52 people infected with the virus have died of pneumonia in the province, while authorities in Shanghai confirmed the first fatal case in the metropolis, an 88-year-old man.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters on Sunday that his government will extend assistance to any Japanese still in Wuhan wishing to head home. The government, he said, is working to arrange a charter flight or other means to bring them back from the city.

On the same day, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said the U.S. government announced in recent days its decision to evacuate consular staff from Wuhan, adding Beijing will provide "necessary support and convenience" for the move.

Infections have spread to other Asian nations as well as the United States, Canada, Europe and Australia. The Japanese government on Sunday announced a fourth confirmed case of the virus, saying a man in his 40s who arrived in the country from Wuhan has tested positive for it.

South Korea has also confirmed a third case, with health authorities saying Sunday a South Korean who lives in Wuhan and came home on Jan. 20 tested positive for the virus.

The Canadian government said Saturday the nation found its first "presumptive" case of the virus. The patient, who recently returned from Wuhan, has been isolated, it said.

Chinese media reported Saturday that all group travel from China to other countries will be banned from Monday, with travel agents being told to stop organizing trips abroad.

In Wuhan, a major international business hub located around 1,000 kilometers south of Beijing, and several neighboring cities, transport services have been shut down. From Sunday, most motor vehicles are banned from the city center, according to local media.

Since the start of the Lunar New Year holidays on Friday, operators of many tourist destinations in China such as Shanghai Disneyland and the Palace Museum in Beijing's Forbidden City have closed the attractions to prevent the spread of the virus.

Hong Kong Disneyland is also closed from Sunday and will remain closed for some time due to the outbreak, Chinese media reported.

(The National Palace Museum in Beijing is closed on Jan. 26, 2020.)
(The National Palace Museum in Beijing is closed on Jan. 26, 2020.)

Municipal authorities in Beijing, meanwhile, have decided to postpone the start of the spring semester of all schools in the capital, which are currently closed for the New Year holidays, local media reported Sunday.

Coronaviruses usually cause common-cold symptoms affecting the nose, sinuses or upper throat, and are spread through sneezing, coughing or direct contact.

Some types, however, lead to more serious, sometimes deadly respiratory diseases, like severe acute respiratory syndrome or Middle East respiratory syndrome, known as SARS and MERS, respectively.

SARS raged in China in 2003 and then spread worldwide, killing 774 people.

The new coronavirus is spreading in Asia and beyond after reports of mysterious pneumonia cases surfaced in late December in Wuhan.

A team from Peking University in Beijing has said the new coronavirus could have originated in bats and then been transmitted from snakes to humans, causing infections from people to people.

Bats and snakes were sold at a food market in Wuhan that many of the infected persons visited for human consumption, sources familiar with the situation in the city said. (Kyodo)