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New Wuhan virus similar to Sars virus, says expert

2020-01-11 HKT 15:43
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  • New Wuhan virus similar to Sars virus, says expert
An infectious disease expert said on Saturday that the genetic sequence of a new virus that has caused an outbreak of pneumonia in the mainland city of Wuhan is similar to that of the Sars virus.

Professor Yuen Kwok-yung from the University of Hong Kong said the genetic makeup of the novel coronavirus was “80 per cent similar” to severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) virus that were found in bats, civets and humans.

But he said part of the virus which determines whether it could “enter animal cells” was different from the Sars virus.

He said there’s too little information to speculate whether the new virus could cause an epidemic like the Sars outbreak in 2003, which infected more than 1,700 people in Hong Kong and killed almost 300. Nevertheless, he said the city must stay extra vigilant.

“The genetic sequence of the virus could change, and that would completely change its toxicity and infectiousness,” he said.

He said that’s what happened in 2003, when the ability of the Sars virus to spread among humans became much stronger after its genetic sequence changed.

He noted that tests currently used by health authorities in Hong Kong are effective in screening suspected patients.

The sequence of the novel coronavirus’ genome was made public by some mainland scientists on a website, as health authorities on the mainland announced the first death from the virus.

Wuhan authorities now say a total of 41 patients have been infected with the virus, which causes pneumonia and fever. Two have been discharged from hospital, while seven remain serious condition.

The authorities had earlier given the total number of people affected by the virus as 59. There was no explanation given why the number was revised down. No other regional authorities on the mainland have officially reported any cases while Taiwan, Singapore and South Korea have.

The Controller of the Centre for Health Protection, Wong Ka-hei, said health authorities would closely monitor the situation.

“At the moment, everybody in Hong Kong including the general public, the healthcare workers and other stakeholders have to remain vigilant and don’t take new disease lightly because we have the painful experience of Sars. So we have to take every measure and closely monitor the situation,” he said.

A total of 54 people have been isolated in Hong Kong over suspicion of contracting the virus following trips to Wuhan since New Year's Eve.

Yuen said all of them had tested negative for the new virus.