China reports first death in Wuhan pneumonia outbreak

The south building of the Wuhan Medical Treatment Centre where patients with the mysterious virus are being treated. ST PHOTO: JET CHEN
The south building of the Wuhan Medical Treatment Centre. ST PHOTO: JET CHEN
Hospital staff at the south building of the Wuhan Medical Treatment Centre. ST PHOTO: JET CHEN
Public health workers at the Wuhan Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market, believed to be the centre of the mysterious pneumonia outbreak. Many of those infected were workers or visitors to the market. ST PHOTO: JET CHEN
Security staff guarding the shut Wuhan Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market. ST PHOTO: JET CHEN

BEIJING - Health authorities in central China on Saturday (Jan 11) reported the first death from a mysterious pneumonia outbreak blamed on a new strain of virus from the same family that causes Sars just as much of the country begins returning home for the Chinese New Year.

A 61-year-old man died on Thursday from severe pneumonia after his heart stopped, the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission said, adding that he had abdominal tumors and chronic liver disease.

The man did not respond to treatment and died when his heart stopped.

He is a regular buyer at the Wuhan Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market, the authority said.

The market, which has been shut since Jan 1 for disinfection and investigation, is at the centre of the mysterious outbreak - most of those with confirmed cases are workers or frequent visitors to the market.

Of the other 40 patients who have been diagnosed with the mystery virus, two have been discharged and seven are still in a serious condition.

It noted that no new cases have been discovered since Jan 3 and that there have been no clear evidence of transmission between humans, including infections among medical staff.

"Our city will continue to strengthen patient treatment, epidemiological investigations, carry out in-depth patriotic health campaigns, do a good job in spreading knowledge of disease prevention, and safeguard the health of the people," the statement said.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Thursday that a newly emerging strain of coronavirus, the same virus that causes Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or Sars, and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (Mers), could have caused the current outbreak.

The inner courtyard of the Wuhan Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market, believed to be the centre of the mysterious pneumonia outbreak. ST PHOTO: JET CHEN

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that cause a variety of infections ranging from the common flu to more severe cases like Mers.

This outbreak comes just days ahead of the Chinese New Year holidays in late January, where millions of Chinese will be travelling home or abroad in the largest annual human migration in the world.

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When The Straits Times visited Wuhan on Jan 10, 2020, residents in the central Chinese city appeared unperturbed by the mysterious viral outbreak. The Wuhan Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market is believed to be the epicentre of the coronavirus epidemic.

The Chinese government expects passengers to make 440 million trips via rail and another 79 million trips via airplanes, officials told a news briefing on Thursday.

While the WHO has said there is no need for travel restrictions, the mass movement raising the chance of people serving as a vector for the pathogen's spread.

Hong Kong's Department of Health said in a separate statement on Saturday that it strengthened checks and cleaning measures at all border check points, including the port, airport and the city's high-speed rail station which receives passengers from Wuhan city.

In 2003, Chinese officials covered up a Sars outbreak for weeks before a growing death toll and rumours forced the government to reveal the epidemic. The disease spread rapidly to other cities and countries. More than 8,000 people were infected and 775 died.

In Singapore, the Ministry of Health said on Saturday that a second suspected case - a 26-year-old China national with pneumonia and travel history to Wuhan - was found not to be linked to the pneumonia cluster in Wuhan. The case has also tested negative for coronavirus.

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Last week a three-year-old girl, also with a travel history to Wuhan, was kept in isolation until it was proven that she was not infected by the new virus.

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