Rapid test for Wuhan virus may be days away, say Hong Kong health authorities

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 - Hong Kong health authorities say they may be days away from developing a quick test for the new strain of coronavirus identified as the cause of a pneumonia outbreak in the Chinese city of Wuhan, local media reported.

Mainland experts have in the past few days identified the new virus and mapped out its entire genome sequence - which has now been shared with the World Health Organisation (WHO), and an online global databank for flu viruses GISAID, local broadcaster RTHK reported on Sunday (Jan 12).

Through this databank, 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, 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 - compared with six to eight hours for broader tests currently available.

Six more people in Hong Kong have been put in isolation in hospital after coming down with respiratory systems following a trip to Wuhan.

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

The seafood market in Wuhan - a major domestic and international transport hub - is now closed and no cases have been reported elsewhere in China or internationally, WHO said.

"The evidence is highly suggestive that the outbreak is associated with exposures in one seafood market in Wuhan," the WHO statement said, adding that the market was closed on Jan. 1.

"At this stage, there is no infection among healthcare workers, and no clear evidence of human to human transmission."

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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.

In all, 67 people in Hong Kong had been placed in isolation at one point as a precaution against the possible spread of the virus, but none have tested positive, and most have been discharged, with just 16 people remaining in hospital.

The Wuhan Municipal Health Commission said in a separate statement late on Sunday that four additional patients have been released and that no new cases have been discovered as of Saturday. The number of confirmed cases in Wuhan remained at 41 as of Saturday, with one death and seven patients in serious condition.

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