HONG KONG (BLOOMBERG) - A mysterious pneumonia outbreak that has sickened dozens of people in China has prompted airports in Singapore, Hong Kong and Taiwan to introduce fever screening, as scientists search for the infectious source.
From Friday (Jan 3) evening, temperature screening will be implemented at Changi Airport for all travellers arriving from the central Chinese city of Wuhan, Singapore's Ministry of Health said.
In Hong Kong, thermal imaging systems will be deployed as part of increased fever surveillance at boundary checkpoints, authorities said.
Taiwan has implemented similar measures, its Centre for Disease Control said Tuesday.
The Wuhan Municipal Health Commission said in a statement that as of 8am on Friday (Jan 3), there were 44 patients with an "unexplained diagnosis of viral pneumonia", of which 11 were criticall ill. The rest of the patietns were stable. All patients were being treated in Wuhan medical institutions.
The commission also tracked 121 close contacts. Its statement added that preliminary investigations show no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission. The main symptom seen in patients is fever, with a few also having difficulty breathing.
Though investigations are ongoing, the commission confirmed that some cases involved operators in the Wuhan South China Seafood City.
The market, which has since been closed, sold birds, pheasants, and snakes, along with organs of rabbits and other wildlife, the Centre for Infectious Disease Research and Policy in Minneapolis said on Thursday, citing local media reports.
That has triggered worries about the potential jump of an unknown virus to humans - reminiscent of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or Sars, which killed almost 800 people about 17 years ago.
The World Health Organisation said it has activated an incident management team over the Wuhan cases to "ensure disease detection systems are sensitive, communication channels are open, and reporting is rapid across the region," the South China Morning Post reported.
Investigations are still under way and authorities haven't yet confirmed the pathogen that is causing the illness, Ms Paige Snider, a WHO spokeswoman, told the paper.
The Wuhan Institute of Virology didn't respond to an e-mailed request for comment on the infectious source.
Several people were arrested for circulating fake news online about the viral spread of pneumonia, provincial authorities said, adding that rumours on social media alleging that there had been an outbreak of Sars are untrue and no person-to-person transmission has been found so far.
Three travellers from Wuhan were admitted to hospitals in Hong Kong, though two were subsequently released, the South China Morning Post reported late Thursday. The city has not received any Wuhan-related severe pneumonia cases, Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan told reporters on Thursday.
Singapore asked doctors to look out for suspected cases of pneumonia among people who have recently returned from Wuhan.
"Suspect cases with fever and acute respiratory illness or pneumonia and with travel history to Wuhan within 14 days before onset of symptoms will be isolated as a precautionary measure to prevent transmission," the city-state's Ministry of Health said in a Facebook post.