New virus surging in Asia rattles scientists

New virus surging in Asia rattles scientists 22.01.2020

New virus surging in Asia rattles scientists

Scientists are increasingly concerned about a new virus that is spreading in Asia. The number of people known to have the respiratory illness, which originated in China, has more than doubled in the past few days. On 20 January, Chinese government officials reported 136 new cases in Wuhan, where the outbreak began, as well as a slew of new cases elsewhere in China. South Korea also reported its first infection. The total number of confirmed cases is now 221: 217 in China and four outside the country.

It also now seems that the virus can be spread from person to person, although the extent of such transmissibility is unclear. So far, three people with the illness are known to have died.

The surge in new infections is particularly alarming given the approach of the Chinese New Year, the country’s most significant annual holiday. From Friday, hundreds of millions of people will travel back to their home towns or overseas.

“This could be the beginning of a disaster,” says Seungtaek Kim, a virologist at the Institut Pasteur Korea in Seongnam, South Korea.

The illness was first detected last December among people who had visited a live-animal market in the city of Wuhan. But on 20 January, officials in South Korea reported the country’s first case of the virus, which belongs to the same coronavirus family as the pathogen that causes severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, and that killed hundreds of people between 2002 and 2003. The South Korea detection comes after two people in Thailand and one in Japan tested positive last week.

The virus is also being detected more widely within China. Shenzhen and Beijing reported their first cases over the weekend. On 20 January, there were 5 confirmed cases in Beijing, and 14 in Guandong province, where Shenzhen is located. The total in Wuhan was 198 and there were 7 suspected cases elsewhere in China.

The World Health Organization has moved to subdue rising panic. On Twitter, it said that the increase in cases was the result of authorities increasing their searching and testing of people already sick with respiratory illnesses. It said that some human-to-human transmission was occurring between people in close contact, but that an animal seems the most likely primary source of the virus. China’s National Health Commission has also tried to allay fears.

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