Asia steps up checks as China virus kills 6, in­fects more than 300

Kuwait Times - - News -

BEI­JING: Asian coun­tries yes­ter­day ramped up mea­sures to block the spread of a new virus as the death toll in China rose to six and the num­ber of cases sur­passed 300, rais­ing con­cerns in the mid­dle of a major hol­i­day travel rush. Na­tions across the Asia-Pa­cific re­gion stepped up checks of pas­sen­gers at air­ports to de­tect the SARS-like coro­n­avirus, which first emerged in the cen­tral Chi­nese city of Wuhan. Fears of a big­ger out­break rose af­ter a prom­i­nent expert from China’s National Health Com­mis­sion con­firmed late Mon­day that the virus can be passed be­tween peo­ple.

Au­thor­i­ties pre­vi­ously said there was no ob­vi­ous ev­i­dence of per­son-to-per­son trans­mis­sion and an­i­mals were sus­pected to be the source, as a seafood mar­ket where live an­i­mals were sold in Wuhan was iden­ti­fied as the cen­tre of the out­break. But the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion (WHO), which was con­clud­ing a fact-find­ing mis­sion in Wuhan, was still be­ing cau­tious, say­ing at a brief­ing in Geneva that “not enough is known to draw de­fin­i­tive con­clu­sions about how it is trans­mit­ted”.

Spokesman Tarik Jasare­vic warned though that “more cases should be ex­pected” both in China and in other coun­tries. Hun­dreds of mil­lions of peo­ple are criss­cross­ing China this week in packed buses, trains and planes to cel­e­brate the Lu­nar New Year with rel­a­tives. More than 80 new cases have been con­firmed, bring­ing the to­tal num­ber of peo­ple hit by the virus in China to 314, with the vast ma­jor­ity in Hubei, the prov­ince where Wuhan lies, ac­cord­ing to the National Health Com­mis­sion (NHC), as well as re­ports from re­gional health com­mis­sions. Other cases have also been con­firmed in cities around the coun­try, in­clud­ing Bei­jing, Shang­hai, and Chongqing, plus Guang­dong, Zhe­jiang and He­nan prov­inces.

Mean­while Wang Guangfa, one of the doc­tors on the NHC team in­ves­ti­gat­ing the epi­demic, told Hong Kong TV sta­tion iCable News that he was re­ceiv­ing treat­ment af­ter be­com­ing in­fected. The first case on the sel­f­ruled is­land of Tai­wan was also con­firmed yes­ter­day, with a woman taken to hos­pi­tal on ar­rival at the air­port from Wuhan. Wuhan mayor Zhou Xian­wang told state broad­caster CCTV yes­ter­day that the death toll had risen from four to six.

China said it would at­tend a spe­cial WHO meet­ing which will de­ter­mine whether to de­clare a rare global

pub­lic health emer­gency over the dis­ease, which was also de­tected in Thai­land, Ja­pan and South Korea among four peo­ple who had vis­ited Wuhan. The coro­n­avirus has caused alarm be­cause of its ge­netic sim­i­lar­i­ties to Se­vere Acute Res­pi­ra­tory Syn­drome (SARS), which killed nearly 650 peo­ple across main­land China and Hong Kong in 2002-2003.

At four air­ports in Thai­land, au­thor­i­ties in­tro­duced manda­tory ther­mal scans of pas­sen­gers ar­riv­ing from high-risk ar­eas of China. Any­one ex­hibit­ing signs of fever will be quar­an­tined for 24 hours for mon­i­tor­ing. Around 1,300 pas­sen­gers are ex­pected each day in Thai­land from Wuhan over Chi­nese New Year, which starts on Fri­day. In Hong Kong, where me­mories of SARS still haunt the city, au­thor­i­ties said they were on “ex­treme high alert”, with pas­sen­gers from Wuhan re­quired to fill out health dec­la­ra­tions and face pos­si­ble jail time if they do not de­clare symp­toms.

En­hanced screen­ing mea­sures have also been set up at air­ports in Aus­tralia, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sin­ga­pore and the United States. Malaysia and Viet­nam have also in­stalled ther­mal scan­ners at air­ports. A man show­ing symp­toms of the dis­ease who had trav­elled to Wuhan has been put in iso­la­tion in Aus­tralia as health of­fi­cials await test re­sults, au­thor­i­ties said yes­ter­day.

In China, the gov­ern­ment an­nounced it was clas­si­fy­ing the out­break in the same cat­e­gory as SARS, mean­ing com­pul­sory iso­la­tion for those di­ag­nosed with the dis­ease and the po­ten­tial to im­ple­ment quar­an­tine mea­sures on travel. In Wuhan, au­thor­i­ties banned tour groups and po­lice were con­duct­ing spot checks for live poul­try or wild an­i­mals in ve­hi­cles leav­ing and en­ter­ing the city, state me­dia said. Pas­sen­gers were be­ing screened for fever at the air­port, rail­way sta­tions and bus ter­mi­nals. Those with fevers would be reg­is­tered, handed masks and ad­vised to see a doc­tor. Chi­nese train and plane au­thor­i­ties said trav­ellers with tick­ets to Wuhan could get re­funds.

Zhong Nan­shan, a renowned sci­en­tist at the National Health Com­mis­sion, raised the alarm when he said on Mon­day that pa­tients can con­tract the virus without hav­ing vis­ited Wuhan, though he added that it was milder than SARS. Doc­tors at the Uni­ver­sity of Hong Kong re­leased a study yes­ter­day es­ti­mat­ing that there have been 1,343 cases of the new virus in Wuhan. Sci­en­tists at Im­pe­rial Col­lege in Lon­don said last week the num­ber was likely closer to 1,700.

The WHO has only called a global pub­lic health emer­gency a hand­ful of times, in­clud­ing dur­ing the H1N1 - or swine flu - pan­demic of 2009 and the Ebola epi­demic that dev­as­tated parts of West Africa from 2014 to 2016. China was ac­cused of cov­er­ing up the SARS out­break in 2003 but some for­eign ex­perts have praised the swift release of in­for­ma­tion on this new virus. — AFP

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