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People wait to board trains at Hongqiao Railway Station, in Shanghai, on Jan. 20, ahead of the Lunar New Year.

HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP/Getty Images

A new SARS-like virus spreading in China and into other countries in Asia has been transmitted from person to person, Chinese health authorities said Monday, as the number of confirmed cases rose above 200.

Health workers in Wuhan, the epicentre of the virus, as well as family members who have not travelled to the city have been infected by the new type of coronavirus, said Zhong Nanshan, who leads a team of experts organized by China’s National Health Commission, according to comments reported by state media. Such an evolution of the virus had been feared by epidemiologists and comes amid evidence that it has begun to spread more rapidly just days ahead of the Lunar New Year celebration – China’s busiest travel season.

A total of 224 cases have been reported in China, state media said Monday evening, with 217 of those confirmed in Wuhan, Beijing and Shenzhen, the economically vital southern city that borders Hong Kong. Another seven are suspected in a growing circle of provinces that now includes Sichuan, Yunnan, Shanghai, Guangxi and Shandong.

Story continues below advertisement

China counts sharp rise

in coronavirus cases

China has reported a sharp rise in the number of

people infected with a new coronavirus, includ-

ing the first cases in the capital, as millions begin

travelling ahead of the Lunar New Year holiday,

which begins on Jan. 24.

KNOWN CORONAVIRUS CASES

(as of 12 p.m. ET Jan. 20)

Beijing: 5

South Korea: 1

CHINA

CHINA

Shanghai: 1

Japan: 1

Wuhan: 198

(including 3 deaths)

Guangdong

province: 14

Thailand: 2

CORONAVIRUS (2019-nCoV)

Belongs to large family of viruses that cause illnesses

ranging from common cold to more severe diseases

such as MERS and SARS*

New strain not previously identified in humans

Origin suggests animal-to-human transmission, but

some human-to-human transmission has occurred

Signs of infection include respiratory symptoms, fever,

cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties

People advised to avoid“unprotected” contact with

live animals, thoroughly cook meat and eggs, and

avoid close contact with anyone with cold or

flu-like symptoms

Electron microscopic image of Middle East

respiratory syndrome (MERS) coronavirus

*Severe acute respiratory syndrome

graphic news, Sources: Associated Press,

BBC Picture: CDC

China counts sharp rise

in coronavirus cases

China has reported a sharp rise in the number of people

infected with a new coronavirus, including the first cases

in the capital, as millions begin travelling ahead of the

Lunar New Year holiday, which begins on Jan. 24.

KNOWN CORONAVIRUS CASES (as of 12 p.m. ET Jan. 20)

Beijing: 5

South Korea: 1

CHINA

CHINA

Japan: 1

Shanghai: 1

Wuhan: 198

(including 3 deaths)

Guangdong

province: 14

Thailand: 2

CORONAVIRUS (2019-nCoV)

Belongs to large family of viruses that cause illnesses

ranging from common cold to more severe diseases

such as MERS and SARS*

New strain not previously identified in humans

Origin suggests animal-to-human transmission, but

some human-to-human transmission has occurred

Signs of infection include respiratory symptoms, fever,

cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties

People advised to avoid“unprotected” contact with

live animals, thoroughly cook meat and eggs, and avoid

close contact with anyone with cold or flu-like symptoms

Electron microscopic image of Middle East

respiratory syndrome (MERS) coronavirus

*Severe acute respiratory syndrome

graphic news, Sources: Associated Press,

BBC Picture: CDC

China counts sharp rise in coronavirus cases

China has reported a sharp rise in the number of people infected with a new

coronavirus, including the first cases in the capital, as millions begin travelling

ahead of the Lunar New Year holiday, which begins on Jan. 24.

KNOWN CORONAVIRUS CASES

(as of 12 p.m. ET Jan. 20)

South Korea: 1

Beijing: 5

CHINA

CHINA

Shanghai: 1

Japan: 1

Wuhan: 198

(including 3 deaths)

CORONAVIRUS (2019-nCoV)

Belongs to large family of

viruses that cause illnesses

ranging from common cold

to more severe diseases

such as MERS and SARS*

Guangdong

province: 14

Thailand: 2

New strain not previously

identified in humans

Origin suggests animal-to-

human transmission, but

some human-to-human

transmission has occurred

Signs of infection include

respiratory symptoms, fever,

cough, shortness of breath

and breathing difficulties

People advised to avoid

“unprotected” contact with

live animals, thoroughly cook

meat and eggs, and avoid

close contact with anyone

with cold or flu-like

symptoms

Electron microscopic image of Middle East

respiratory syndrome (MERS) coronavirus

*Severe acute respiratory syndrome

graphic news, Sources: Associated Press, BBC Picture: CDC

The expanding reach of the Wuhan virus, which belongs to the same family as the SARS coronavirus that in 2003 infected 8,098 people and killed 774, has coincided with the movement of hundreds of millions of people in what is often called the largest human migration on Earth.

Mr. Zhong sought to assuage fears about the virus, which infects people with pneumonia-like symptoms. “We identified the new coronavirus just two weeks after the outbreak was reported and we have very good virus-monitoring and quarantine measures,” he said, according to comments reported by China Daily. “I believe the outbreak will not cause the same impact on society and the economy as SARS did 17 years ago.”

But the collision of an urgent public health situation with holiday travel has worried experts and travellers alike.

“It’s scary. I purchased, like, four dozen special masks half a month ago because I feared they would be sold out,” said Zhao Zhijian, 29, a tech worker heading to Wuhan for the holidays. He was keeping a close eye on how the virus was moving. “Knowing that there are cases in other parts of China makes me even more nervous, because it’s spreading.”

It’s an anxiety shared by epidemiologists across Asia, who are watching as people in China embark on an estimated three billion trips this year, crowding into cars, trains, planes and buses to travel to family homes. Large numbers of people are travelling internationally as well.

Later Monday, the World Health Organization said it will convene an emergency meeting in Geneva on Wednesday to discuss whether the new coronavirus constitutes an international health emergency.

“We are completely worried about it, to be honest,” said Asok Kurup, an infectious diseases specialist at Mount Elizabeth Hospital in Singapore who has worked on the response to previous pandemics, including SARS and H1N1.

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Lunar New Year is “supposed to be a happy occasion. But we are absolutely frightened about the whole scenario,” he said. “We are bracing ourselves for the millions of people who will be moving all over the continent in the next few weeks to only worsen the problem.”

For now, overseas authorities have taken a cautious approach. In South Korea, authorities raised their alert level Monday and ordered additional monitoring by local governments after placing into isolation a woman who arrived Sunday with a fever and respiratory problems. The woman had travelled from Wuhan and tested positive for the new virus. Airports in the United States, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines have increased screening of passengers from Wuhan.

The Public Health Agency of Canada said in its latest travel advisory that “the risk to Canadians visiting Wuhan is assessed as low,” but it “is actively monitoring the situation and working with the World Health Organization (WHO) and other international partners to gather additional information.” The agency also told the Ottawa Citizen that the risk is low in Canada because there are no direct flights from Wuhan.

The virus first emerged at the Wuhan South China Seafood City market, which was closed at the beginning of the year.

Chinese authorities, who routinely suppress information they believe could hurt social stability, have been accused of covering up reports on past epidemics, in particular the initial spread of SARS.

This time, foreign experts have credited China with being more open in disclosing information about the new virus, including its genetic sequencing, while state media have published commentaries calling for official transparency to avoid panic.

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Chinese health authorities have not provided detailed information about how the virus is transmitted or what environmental factors may be associated with its spread. Such information is even more important now that Chinese authorities have determined it is capable of human-to-human transmission.

At Wuhan’s international airport, authorities have conducted temperature checks of outbound passengers. Local rail stations have also been ordered to do the same.

Ivan Hung, a medical doctor who is the chief of the infectious diseases division at the University of Hong Kong, held out hope about containing the virus, particularly since the information disclosed by China has allowed other countries to develop rapid testing to check for its presence. “Its severity will be reduced because of quick diagnosis and quick isolation,” he said.

Still, he recommended more careful screening for those travelling to foreign countries from anywhere in China, not just from Wuhan. And such passengers should be screened for respiratory conditions, not just fevers, Dr. Kurup said.

“Until we understand a little bit more about what this virus is going to be, we’re going to deem it potentially lethal and we’re going to take full precautions,” he said.

Those travelling to Wuhan, meanwhile, said they were hoping the uncertainty would not dampen their holidays.

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“My family is in Wuhan and they reminded me to wear a mask when I’m going home – but they showed no signs of panic,” said Xu Can, 36. “My feeling is that the situation in Wuhan remains OK.”

Patricia Shen, 25, wasn’t so sure. A part-time kindergarten teacher who works in Paris, she was boarding a train home to Wuhan, where her mother and aunt work in a hospital. They “told me the situation is worse than some of the early news reports,” Ms. Shen said. “Wuhan is such an important crossroads for transportation, and so many cases have appeared, so you can imagine how many are still unknown.”

She plans to stay at home for the holidays, knowing that her own family is taking the virus seriously. For her parents, “washing hands has become the first thing they do when they get home. ‘Washing your hands is more important than taking off your shoes’ – that’s what my mom said.”

The international attention on the virus has made her particularly determined to not even catch a cold, knowing she is likely to face particular scrutiny on her return to Paris.

“I think people leaving Wuhan with high temperatures will be in big trouble when they travel elsewhere,” she said. “I don’t want to get stuck at health quarantine when I’m back to France.”

With reporting by Alexandra Li and Reuters

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