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Third person killed by SARS-like illness as virus spreads to fourth country

Chinese authorities have confirmed more than 130 new cases of the virus.

A NEW VIRUS which is being likened to SARS has killed a third person and reached a fourth Asian country, authorities in have confirmed.

South Korea reported its first case of the disease in a 35-year-old woman who arrived from the Chinese city of Wuhan, where the virus was initially discovered.

The local health commissioner in Wuhan confirmed a third death and 136 new cases of the virus, taking the total number of people diagnosed with the virus in China to 201.

The new strain of coronavirus, which first discovered last month, has caused alarm because of its connection to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which killed nearly 650 people across mainland China and in Hong Kong between 2002 and 2003.

The spread of the virus has led to fears of a major outbreak as millions begin travelling for the Lunar New Year across Asia.

Wuhan has 11 million inhabitants and serves as a major transport hub, including during the annual Lunar New Year holiday which begins later this week.

No human-to-human transmission has been confirmed so far, but authorities have previously said the possibility of it occurring “cannot be excluded”.

Detection measures

A seafood market is believed to be the centre of the outbreak in Wuhan, but health officials have reported that some patients had no history of contact with the facility.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Twitter on Monday that “an animal source seems the most likely primary source” with “some limited human-to-human transmission occurring between close contacts”.

It said the new cases in China were the result of “increased searching and testing for [the virus] among people sick with respiratory illness”.

Last week, scientists with the MRC Centre for Global Infectious Disease Analysis at Imperial College in London warned in a paper published that the number of cases in the city was likely to be closer to 1,700, much higher than the number officially identified.

Wuhan authorities said they have installed infrared thermometers at airports, railway stations and coach stations across the city. Passengers with fevers are also being registered, given masks and taken to medical institutions.

Authorities in Hong Kong have also stepped up virus detection measures at border crossings, including rigorous temperature checks for inbound travellers from the Chinese mainland.

Passengers are also being screened at some airports in Thailand and the United States.

In Wuhan, 170 people are still being treated at hospital, including nine in critical condition, the city health commission said, adding that 25 people have been discharged so far.

However, Chinese state media has moved to calm the mood as discussion about the coronavirus spreading to other Chinese cities swelled on social media.

Nationalist tabloid Global Times called for better handling of the new virus than that of the 2003 SARS outbreak.

- © AFP 2020

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