BEIJING.- While the global alarm goes on, China confirmed yesterday the third death linked to a new virus and 217 people infected in the Asian giant, who now faces the greatest human movement during the preparations for the lunar New Year.Ads by
Nervousness over the mysterious disease increased after South Korea confirmed yesterday the first case in its territory, added to both in Thailand and another in Japan.
The health authorities of the Asian giant also revealed yesterday one of the worst fears when they confirmed that the virus is spread among humans . Zhong Nanshan, a scientist at the National Health Commission, who helped assess the magnitude of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in 2003, was responsible for making the worrying announcement public.
The new coronavirus strain , first discovered in the city of Wuhan, set off alarms for its connection with SARS, which killed nearly 650 people in mainland China and Hong Kong between 2002 and 2003.
Concern about the spread of the agent led the World Health Organization (WHO) to convene an emergency committee to treat the disease. The meeting is scheduled for tomorrow in Geneva and it will be decided whether the outbreak is classified as “a public health emergency of international scope”, a designation that is usually only used when dealing with very serious epidemics.
The UN health agency estimated that the outbreak is attributed to a strain never seen before, which belongs to a wide family of viruses that range from those that cause the common cold to more serious diseases, such as SARS.
According to Arnaud Fontanet, head of Epidemiology at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, the new strain is the seventh known type of coronavirus that humans can get. And he considered that the strain was 80% genetically identical to SARS. While he said that the coronavirus appears to be “weaker” than SARS, he warned that it could mutate into a more virulent strain.
In Wuhan, in central China, 198 cases were diagnosed. In addition, five other cases were known in Beijing, in the north of the country, and 14 in Canton, in the south, facing Hong Kong. There are also seven suspected cases in Shanghai and in four provinces and regions in the east, south and southwest of the country. It is believed that a seafood market was the center of the outbreak in Wuhan, but authorities identified patients who had no history of contact with that mall.
The WHO advised that people protect themselves against the virus by washing their hands, covering their nose when they sneeze, cooking meat and eggs well and avoiding close contact with wild or farm animals.
The spread of the virus worries the Chinese authorities because this week begins the lunar New Year, when millions of citizens travel to celebrate (see separately). In addition, Wuhan is a very important center, since it has 11 million inhabitants and serves as a transport base.
The Chinese president, Xi Jinping, was blunt in relation to the virus and indicated that he must be “absolutely arrested.” “The safety of people’s lives and their physical health must be a priority,” he said.
Wuhan Deputy Mayor Chen Xiexin explained that infrared thermometers were installed in airports, train stations and buses. He also said that passengers with fever were registered, given masks, and transferred to medical institutions.
In South Korea, the Korean Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported that a 35-year-old Chinese woman arrived on a flight from Wuhan and confirmed that she had been infected with the new coronavirus. That woman had already gone to a hospital in Wuhan with symptoms similar to a cold and after receiving medication she boarded a plane to Seoul.
In this context, the Hong Kong authorities intensified the detection measures, with temperature control points for travelers arriving from China. The United States announced that it will monitor direct flights arriving from Wuhan to San Francisco airports and the JFK in New York. Meanwhile, Thailand announced that it will check passengers arriving in Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Phuket, and that it will incorporate similar controls in the Krabi spa.