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Chinese health authority warns coronavirus could 'mutate and spread further'

North Korea has reportedly closed its border to all tourists.

Staff move bio-waste containers past the entrance of the Wuhan Medical Treatment Center
Staff move bio-waste containers past the entrance of the Wuhan Medical Treatment Center
Image: AP/PA Images

CHINA HAS WARNED that a SARS-like virus could mutate and spread as the death toll rose to nine and the number of cases reached 440 across the country.

The coronavirus is transmitted via the respiratory tract and there “is the possibility of viral mutation and further spread of the disease”, National Health Commission vice minister Li Bin said at a news conference.

The commission announced measures to contain the disease as hundreds of millions of people travel across the country for this week’s Lunar 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.

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

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

North Korea

Meanwhile, North Korea will ban foreign tourists to protect itself against the new SARS-like virus, a major tour operator said.

Several nations including the US have stepped up checks on airport passengers to detect the coronavirus but a ban on tourists would be a first.

The caused concerns 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.

The vast majority of foreign tourists to North Korea are Chinese, and their numbers have swelled significantly in the last year as relations between Beijing and Pyongyang have warmed, generating vital foreign currency for the isolated country.

But as of today, North Korea will “temporarily close its borders to all foreign tourists as a precaution to the coronavirus”, Chinese-based specialist operator Young Pioneer Tours said in a statement.

Exact details had yet to be confirmed, it added. Koryo Tours, the market leader for Western visitors, said it had been “informed that action was being considered” and was expecting more information Wednesday.

Pyongyang has taken similar action in the past – it closed its borders to foreign tourists for more than four months from October 2014 in a bid to keep out the Ebola virus, even though no cases were reported in Asia.

It enforced a 21-day quarantine period on anyone entering the country, including foreign diplomats and businessmen and women.

Pyongyang’s official Rodong Sinmun newspaper did not mention any North Korean action over the virus Wednesday but reported on the outbreak in China, saying it had “spread rapidly” and that authorities in its neighbour were taking “corresponding measures”.

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Yesterday, a US resident who recently returned from an overseas trip was diagnosed with the new virus.

 © – AFP 2020

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