A senior mainland health official has confirmed that the new virus originating in Wuhan is spreading via person-to-person transmission. Authorities had initially maintained that there was no evidence that the Sars-like virus was contagious between humans.
The outbreak has killed a third person and spread to more mainland cities and a third country, fuelling fears of a major health threat as millions of people begin travelling for the Lunar New Year. The coronavirus strain has caused alarm because of its connection to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (Sars), which killed more than 770 people in 2002 and 2003.
Scientists have scrambled to determine the mode of transmission, with a seafood market in Wuhan believed to be the centre of the outbreak.
But Professor Zhong Nanshan, a renowned scientist at the National Health Commission who managed China's response to Sars, said patients could contract the new virus without having visited the city.
"Currently, it can be said it is affirmative that there is the phenomenon of human-to-human transmission," he said in an interview with CCTV.
He said two patients In Guangdong were infected by family members who had visited Wuhan. Fourteen medical personnel helping with coronavirus patients have also been infected, he said.
The number of known infections has risen to 218, as Shanghai confirmed its first case on Monday and 136 new cases were found over the weekend in Wuhan, 15 in Guangdong province and five in Beijing, according to CCTV. A third patient in Wuhan has died.
Meanwhile South Korea has reported its first case – a 35-year-old woman who flew in from Wuhan. It's the third country outside China to confirm an infection after Thailand and Japan.
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 and sees hundreds of millions of Chinese people travel across the country to visit family.
Weighing in on the matter for the first time, President Xi Jinping said on Monday that safeguarding people's lives should be given "top priority" and that the spread of the epidemic "should be resolutely contained", according to CCTV.
Xi said it was necessary to "release information on the epidemic in a timely manner and deepen international cooperation," and ensure people have a "stable and peaceful Spring Festival", the broadcaster said. (AFP)
China confirms human transmission of Wuhan virus
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