Thailand confirms first case of mystery virus from Wuhan, Chinese woman quarantined

In a photo taken on Feb 20, 2018, passengers wait to board their plane at Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok. PHOTO: ST FILE

BANGKOK (REUTERS) - A Chinese woman has been quarantined in Thailand with a mystery strain of coronavirus, the authorities said on Monday (Jan 13), the first time it has been detected outside China.

Thai authorities are stepping up monitoring at airports ahead of the Chinese New Year holiday, beginning on Jan 25, when hundreds of thousands of Chinese tourists are expected to visit.

A 61-year-old man has died from pneumonia - a symptom of the disease - in central China's Wuhan city, after an outbreak of the yet to be identified virus there.

In total, 41 cases of pneumonia have been reported in China, which preliminary lab tests cited by Chinese state media show could be from a new type of coronavirus.

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that can cause infections ranging from the common cold to SARS. Some of the virus types cause less serious disease, while some like the one that causes MERS, are far more severe.

The Wuhan Municipal Health Commission said on Monday that seven of the 41 patients had been discharged and six were in a serious condition.

The Thai Health Ministry said on Monday that of 12 travellers quarantined since Jan 3, lab results show that a 61-year-old Chinese woman carried a strain of the coronavirus.

The woman, who was quarantined on Wednesday (Jan 8), had received treatment and was well enough to return home, the ministry said.

"Being able to identify a patient shows that there is efficiency in our monitoring system. We are confident that we can manage the situation," Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul told reporters.

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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.

Officials in China and Thailand are working with the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The Chinese outbreak appeared to be linked to a single seafood market in Wuhan and had so far not spread beyond there, the WHO said.

"The possibility of cases being identified in other countries was not unexpected, and reinforces why WHO calls for on-going active monitoring and preparedness in other countries," its statement said.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus will consult with international experts to assess the public health risks of outbreaks and decide whether an emergency meeting is needed, it added.

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