Mon, Jan 13, 2020 - Page 1 News List

China reports death in Wuhan outbreak


A man leaves the Wuhan Medical Treatment Center in Wuhan, China, yesterday.

Photo: AFP

A 61-year-old man has become the first person to die in China from a respiratory illness believed to be caused by a new virus from the same family as SARS, which claimed hundreds of lives more than a decade ago, authorities said.

Forty-one people showing pneumonia-like symptoms have so far been diagnosed with the new virus in Wuhan, China, with one of the victims dying on Thursday, the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission said on its Web site on Saturday.

Seven others remained in serious condition, two were discharged from treatment and the rest were stable, it added.

The episode has caused alarm due to the specter of SARS, which in 2002-2003 killed 349 people in China and another 299 in Hong Kong, whose economy was hit hard by the epidemic’s devastating impact on tourism.

The commission said the man who died had purchased goods from the Huanan Seafood City market, identified by authorities as the center of the outbreak and closed on Jan. 1.

The man, who also had underlying health issues including chronic liver disease, died in hospital of “respiratory failure and severe pneumonia,” the commission added.

No new cases have been detected since Jan. 3, nor any “clear evidence of human-to-human transmission,” it said.

People in white hazmat suits were seen spraying liquid on the market floor late on Saturday, while a number of guards sat outside the perimeter of the facility’s two sections without masks on.

Chinese health officials investigating the outbreak last week said they believe the pathogen is a previously unknown type of coronavirus, a broad family ranging from the common cold to more serious illnesses like SARS.

Hong Kong Department of Health officials on Saturday said that genetic sequencing of the virus found in one of the Wuhan patients and published online by a Chinese expert indicated it was 80 percent similar to a coronavirus found in bats, which have been linked to SARS.

Speaking at a news conference in Hong Kong, they said it was too early to conclude definitively that it was a SARS strain, adding that the territory needed to stay vigilant.

Hong Kong authorities have taken a range of precautions including stepping up the disinfection of trains and airplanes, and checks of passengers.

On Saturday evening, there was little sign of alarm in Wuhan outside of the market.

Few people at the city’s main airport wore masks and no extra monitoring measures were visible at the airport’s terminals.

A restaurant on the outside of the building housing the seafood market was still open for business.

One man, a dry-goods seller at the market surnamed Dai, attempted to enter the market at about midnight, but was turned away by the guards.

He told reporters that he was not worried about getting infected.

“I haven’t heard that this disease is contagious,” Dai said, adding that he believed the illness was caused by a fire at the market in the middle of November last year in which items including plastic materials and chili peppers were burnt.

The WHO on Thursday said it was not recommending any specific measures for travelers or restrictions on trade with China, and expressed confidence in the ability of Chinese authorities to contain the virus.

China has entered the Lunar New Year holiday travel rush, raising concerns about the mass movement of people serving as a vector for the pathogen.

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