Quick test for Wuhan virus may be days away: Hong Kong

The Wuhan Municipal Health Commission said that four additional patients have been released and that no new cases have been discovered as of Jan 11.
The Wuhan Municipal Health Commission said that four additional patients have been released and that no new cases have been discovered as of Jan 11.PHOTO: AP

HONG KONG • The health authorities in Hong Kong say they may be days away from developing a quick test for a new strain of coronavirus identified as the cause of a pneumonia outbreak in central China's Wuhan city, local media reported.

Mainland experts have in the past few days identified the new virus and mapped out its entire genome sequence - which has been shared with the World Health Organisation (WHO) and Gisaid, an online global data bank for flu viruses, broadcaster RTHK said on Sunday.

Through this data bank, Hong Kong's Centre for Health Protection will have access to the genome sequence as soon as the information is published after being verified.

A top microbiologist at the University of Hong Kong, Dr Ho Pak Leung, said this should be completed in a very short time, and once scientists in Hong Kong get access to this information, they will be able to devise rapid tests for the Wuhan virus that can yield results in two to three hours, against six to eight hours for broader tests currently available.

Genome sequencing of viruses is a useful tool for understanding the nature of diseases and for surveillance of the strain.

As of noon yesterday, only Princess Margaret Hospital had, in the past 24 hours, admitted one patient who had visited Wuhan in Hubei province in the past 14 days. The 38-year-old woman has fever, respiratory infection or pneumonia symptoms. She did not visit wet markets in Wuhan.

Hong Kong's Hospital Authority has reported 68 patient cases, including the latest case, since Dec 31. Specimens taken from the patients have been sent to the Department of Health for testing. Among all the suspected cases, 56 have been discharged and those patients still hospitalised are in stable condition.

A group of Hong Kong experts led by Dr Chui Tak Yi, the undersecretary for food and health, left for Wuhan yesterday, the South China Morning Post reported.

During their two-day visit, the team is expected to be briefed on the latest situation and control measures, and clinical management.


The group also comprises Dr Chuang Shuk Kwan, head of the communicable disease branch of the Centre for Health Protection, and Dr Raymond Lai, chief infection control officer at the Hospital Authority, the Post added.

The WHO said on Sunday that the outbreak appears to be linked to a single seafood market in Wuhan and has not spread beyond there so far, Reuters reported.

The Wuhan Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market was closed on Jan 1, after the cluster of the novel coronavirus was initially reported the day before.

While investigations are still on to assess the full extent of the outbreak, the WHO does not recommend any specific health measures for travellers, and advises against any travel or trade restrictions on China based on the information available, China's official Xinhua news agency reported yesterday.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 14, 2020, with the headline 'Quick test for Wuhan virus may be days away: HK'. Subscribe