WHO warns of wider outbreak of Wuhan virus as Chinese New Year nears

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GENEVA • There may have been limited human-to-human transmission of a new coronavirus in China within families, and it is possible there could be a wider outbreak, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said yesterday.

In all, 41 cases of pneumonia have been reported in the city of Wuhan. Preliminary lab tests cited by state media showed it could be from a new type of coronavirus.

So far, one patient has died.

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that can cause infections ranging from the common cold to Sars.

However, the WHO is preparing for the possibility that there could be a wider outbreak, said Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, acting head of WHO's emerging diseases unit.

A Chinese woman has been quarantined in Thailand with a mystery strain of coronavirus, the Thai authorities said on Monday. It is the first time the virus has been detected outside China.

The United Nations agency has given guidance to hospitals worldwide about infection control in case the new virus spreads. There is no specific treatment for the virus, but anti-virals are being considered and could be "re-purposed", Dr Van Kerkhove said.

The health authorities in Hong Kong and experts were set to meet this morning after a government team returned from Wuhan, Chief Executive Carrie Lam said yesterday. She said Hong Kong University's laboratory will be able to test more quickly and more accurately for the new virus now that it has its genetic sequence.

As it is the annual flu season, and with Chinese New Year approaching, she said preventive measures have been stepped up.

The Hong Kong Hospital Authority on Monday said 68 people have been suspected to be infected with the virus since Dec 31. Of these, 56 patients - who made trips to Wuhan but did not visit the market where the outbreak is believed to have started - have been discharged.

This article has been edited for clarity.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 15, 2020, with the headline WHO warns of wider outbreak of Wuhan virus as Chinese New Year nears. Subscribe