According to NBC News, the number of people known to have been infected with the coronavirus on Monday jumped to over 200 from 62, with new cases reported in China’s capital and other Asian countries. Over the weekend, a third patient in the region died of pneumonia-like virus, bringing the death toll to three. Authorities in Wuhan, where coronavirus appears to have originated, said 136 new cases have been confirmed in the city in central China. As of Monday, there were a total of 198 infected patients in Wuhan and more than 200 worldwide.
The epidemic has coincided with one of the busiest travel periods of the year with millions of people journey inside and outside of China for the Lunar New Year. The virus has now spread beyond the confines of Wuhan with five people in Beijing, one in Shanghai, and 14 in the Guangdong province being diagnosed, according to health officials. Authorities in Thailand and in Japan have identified at least three cases, all involving recent travel from China.
According to the Guardian, more than 100 patients with symptoms were waiting to be seen at the Xiehe hospital in Wuhan at 6am on Monday. “If you are coming now, you have to wait between three and four hours before you can see the doctors,” a hospital worker said by phone. At a hospital in Chaoyang district in Beijing, patients were being given masks and forms to fill out, detailing any recent travel to Wuhan. A nurse said preventive measures were also being taken to protect doctors. Coronaviruses are transmitted between animals and people, and the outbreak in Wuhan has been linked to a now-closed seafood market where live animals were reportedly sold.
For weeks, the only reported cases were in Wuhan and areas outside mainland China, prompting many people to question whether other cities were simply not reporting or testing for the virus. Some internet users joked the virus appeared to be “patriotic” by only spreading beyond China’s borders. Authorities have still not identified the source of the infection, which further complicates the government’s ability to contain the outbreak. The Huanan seafood market, where thousands of traders sold products, has been closed since 1 January. Yet some of the detected cases are patients with no history of visiting the market.
Initial symptoms of the virus include fever, cough, tightness of the chest and shortness of breath. The outbreak has put other countries on high alert with at least a half-a-dozen countries in Asia starting screening incoming airline passengers from central China. The United States said Friday that it also would begin screening for sick travelers at three U.S. airports John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, as well as San Francisco International Airport and Los Angeles International Airport. The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned the virus was a new strain that has not been previously identified in humans. It belongs to the large family of coronaviruses that can cause illnesses ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which killed nearly 800 people globally during a 2002-2003 outbreak that also started in China.