BANGKOK • A Chinese woman has been quarantined in Thailand with a mystery strain of a coronavirus just days before Chinese New Year, when tourists from China usually flock to the country, the Thai authorities said yesterday. This is the first time the virus has been detected outside China.
The Thai authorities are stepping up monitoring at airports ahead of the Chinese New Year holiday, which begins on Jan 25, when hundreds of thousands of Chinese tourists are expected to visit.
Of the 12 passengers quarantined since Jan 3, lab results show that a 61-year-old Chinese woman carried a strain of the coronavirus, the Thai Health Ministry said.
The woman, who was hospitalised last Wednesday at the Bamrasnaradura Infectious Diseases Institute, tested positive for the novel coronavirus linked to the outbreak in Wuhan, the Thai Ministry of Public Health said in a statement yesterday.
"Laboratory testing subsequently confirmed that the novel coronavirus was the cause," World Health Organisation (WHO) spokesman Tarik Jasarevic told AFP in an e-mail.
The woman had received treatment and was well enough to return home, the ministry added.
"Being able to identify a patient shows there is efficiency in our monitoring system. We are confident that we can manage the situation," Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul said.
"I'd like to ask the public not to be alarmed," added Mr Anutin, who is also Deputy Premier.
Thailand receives about 10 million Chinese tourists each year.
The novel virus has captured global attention because of similarities with the one that sparked Sars (severe acute respiratory syndrome) 17 years ago. Unlike Sars, which killed almost 800 people, the new virus does not appear to spread easily between people.
The Chinese outbreak of pneumonia appeared to be linked to a single seafood market in Wuhan in central China's Hubei province, and has not so far spread beyond there, WHO said on Sunday.
The Wuhan Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market sells seafood, live animals and meat from wildlife. That led to concern that an infectious respiratory pathogen from animals had emerged, potentially setting off a deadly contagion reminiscent of Sars.
"At this stage, there is no infection among healthcare workers, and no clear evidence of human to human transmission," the WHO said in a statement.
The cluster of the novel coronavirus was initially reported last Dec 31. Since then, most cases have been found among people who are working at or who are frequent visitors to the wholesale market, which has been temporarily closed to carry out environmental sanitation and disinfection.
The Wuhan authorities have so far confirmed 41 cases with novel coronavirus infection, of whom seven are severely ill.
A 61-year-old man died, although doctors said he also suffered from an abdominal tumour and chronic liver disease.
"It is too early to breathe a collective sigh of relief, as tempting as it may be," the International Society for Infectious Diseases' ProMED-mail programme, an Internet service that identifies unusual health events, said in an e-mail yesterday. Scientists still do not know the source of the virus, and it is possible it might lurk in animals sold at other markets in China, ProMED-mail said.
"And with the coming Chinese New Year, there will be massive population movement in the country and the region, and wildlife meals are delicacies," it noted.
REUTERS, BLOOMBERG, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE