WHO warns China’s new coronavirus could spread

Chinese woman in Thailand confirmed as first such case of infection outside China

Screening at Hong Kong International Airport

Screening at Hong Kong International Airport (AP photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — The novel coronavirus that originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan carries the risk of limited human-to-human transmission and a wider outbreak, said the World Health Organization on Tuesday (Jan. 14).

The virus 2019-nCoV, as it has been named by the WHO, has sickened 41 patients in Wuhan and claimed one life. A 61-year-old Chinese woman traveling to Thailand has been confirmed as the first case infected with 2019-nCoV outside China and is being quarantined, reported The Associated Press.

The development appears to have raised the alarm about the coronavirus, which is in the virus family that triggered the SARS and MERS global health scares. The WHO is on high alert and has guided hospitals worldwide to take measures against a possible spread of the novel virus.

“It is possible that there is limited human-to-human transmission, potentially among families,” Reuters quoted Maria Van Kerkhove, acting head of the WHO’s emerging diseases unit, as saying at a press briefing in Geneva on Tuesday. She added that the health organization is preparing for a possible outbreak but said more clinical information is needed.

Prior to the new incident, Wuhan’s health authorities believed the infections had been caused by exposure to a local seafood market, as all the confirmed cases either worked at or frequented the market. With the Lunar New Year approaching, the WHO urged Thai authorities and the public to stay vigilant as an influx of Chinese holidaymakers can be expected, said Reuters.

Taiwan’s Centers for Disease Control (CDC) explained that limited human-to-human transmission means infections take place when there is close and prolonged contact with the infected. Families and caretakers are at higher risk of contracting such viruses, as evidenced during the SARS and MERS epidemics, reported CNA.