China on Saturday reported the first death from a virus believed to be from the same family as the SARS pathogen that killed hundreds in China and Hong Kong more than a decade ago.
Forty-one people with pneumonia-like symptoms have so far been diagnosed with the new type of coronavirus in the central Chinese city of Wuhan where it was first confirmed, with one of the victims dying, the city’s health commission said on its website.
Seven others remained in serious condition while two were discharged from treatment, it added, saying the latest tally was completed on Friday.
The commission did not specify when the death occurred or give further details on the patient other than to say the bulk of those diagnosed worked at a Wuhan seafood market that was closed January 1 following the outbreak.
The episode has caused alarm due to the link to SARS, or Sudden Acute Respiratory Syndrome, which killed 349 people in mainland China and another 299 in Hong Kong in 2002-2003.
State-run Xinhua news agency reported on Friday that Chinese scientists investigating the outbreak had made a “preliminary” determination that it was a previously unknown type of coronavirus.
The WHO says coronaviruses are a large family of pathogens ranging from the common cold to more serious illnesses like SARS and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), which emerged in 2012 and also caused scores of deaths.
“No new cases have been detected since January 3, 2020,” the Wuhan health commission said.
“At present, no infections among medical staff have been found, and no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission has been found.”
Wuhan authorities had earlier said 59 people had fallen ill, but Saturday’s statement suggests that not all have been confirmed as cases of the new virus.
The outbreak was first confirmed on December 31 in Wuhan, which has a population of more than 11 million.
Authorities in Hong Kong have since taken precautions including stepping up the disinfection of trains and planes, and checks of passengers.
The WHO, however, said Thursday it was not recommending any specific measures for travellers, nor the application of any trade or travel restrictions on China based on current information, expressing confidence in the ability of Chinese authorities to manage the situation.
China has since ruled out a fresh recurrence of SARS.
– Travel rush looms –
China has entered its annual Lunar New Year holiday travel rush, raising the spectre of the mass movement of people serving as a vector for the pathogen’s spread.
In the world’s largest annual human migration, hundreds of millions of people are expected to pack together on trains, buses and planes for the Lunar New Year holiday that this year falls in late January.
Authorities have said 400 million train tickets have been purchased for holiday-related travel, with hundreds of millions more expected to travel by air and road.
China has not announced any travel restrictions.
Authorities in Hong Kong have said 48 people have been hospitalised in recent days after returning from Wuhan and displaying flu-like illnesses, but none were confirmed to have contracted the new coronavirus.
City residents worried about the outbreak have rushed to buy face masks from local pharmacies, with many selling out earlier this week.
The coming holiday has prompted concerns in Taiwan, where officials urged the island’s health and welfare ministry to strengthen quarantine controls at airports.
The US embassy in China warned on Tuesday that Americans travelling in the country should avoid animals and contact with sick people.