Wed | Feb 19, 2020

Cases of new viral respiratory illness rise sharply in China

Published:Wednesday | January 22, 2020 | 9:21 AM
Hospital staff wash the emergency entrance of Wuhan Medical Treatment Center, where some infected with a new virus are being treated, in Wuhan, China, Wednesday, January 22, 2020. (AP Photo/Dake Kang)

BEIJING (AP) — Chinese health authorities urged people in the city of Wuhan to avoid crowds and public gatherings, after warning that a new viral illness that has infected more than 400 people and killed at least nine could spread further.

The appeal came as the World Health Organization convened a group of independent experts to advise whether the outbreak should be declared a global emergency.

The number of new cases has risen sharply in China, the center of the outbreak. There were 440 confirmed cases as of midnight Tuesday in 13 jurisdictions, said Li Bin, deputy director of the National Health Commission.

Nine people have died, all in Hubei province, since the outbreak emerged in its provincial capital of Wuhan late last month.

“There has already been human-to-human transmission and infection of medical workers,” Li said at a news conference with health experts.

“Evidence has shown that the disease has been transmitted through the respiratory tract and there is the possibility of viral mutation.”

The illness comes from a newly identified type of coronavirus, a family of viruses that can cause the common cold as well as more serious illnesses such as the SARS outbreak that spread from China to more than a dozen countries in 2002-2003 and killed about 800 people.

Some experts have drawn parallels between the new coronavirus and Middle Eastern respiratory syndrome, another coronavirus that does not spread very easily among humans and is thought to be carried by camels.

But WHO’s Asia office tweeted this week that “there may now be sustained human-to-human transmission,” which raises the possibility that the epidemic is spreading more easily and may no longer require an animal source to spark infections, as officials initially reported.

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