A fourth person has died from pneumonia in the central Chinese city of Wuhan following the outbreak of a new coronavirus, Reuters reports, citing local health authorities.
The 89-year-old man developed symptoms on Jan. 13 and was admitted to hospital five days later after he experienced severe breathing difficulties, the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission was quoted as saying in a statement on Tuesday. The person died on Jan. 19.
According to the statement, the patient also had underlying health diseases such as hypertension, diabetes and coronary heart disease.
In a separate statement posted on its official Weibo account, the Wuhan health commission said 15 medical workers in the city had been diagnosed with pneumonia with one other suspected case. Of the infected staff, one was in critical condition.
The outbreak, which began in Wuhan, has spread to more Chinese cities including the capital Beijing and Shanghai, and four cases have been reported outside the country’s borders, in South Korea, Thailand and Japan.
Authorities confirmed a total of 217 new cases of the virus in China as of 6 pm local time on Monday, with 198 of the cases from Wuhan, according to state media.
Five new cases were confirmed in Beijing and 14 more in Guangdong province, the report said. Another statement confirmed a new case in Shanghai, bringing the number of known cases worldwide to 222.
“People’s lives and health should be given top priority and the spread of the outbreak should be resolutely curbed,” Chinese President Xi Jinping was quoted as saying by state television.
China’s National Health Commission confirmed on Monday that the virus, which causes a type of pneumonia, can pass from person-to-person, the official Xinhua news agency said.
Adding to the difficulties of containing it, hundreds of millions of Chinese will be traveling domestically and abroad during the Lunar New Year holiday that starts this week.
Authorities around the globe, including in the United States and many Asian countries, have stepped up screening of travelers from Wuhan, the Chinese city where the virus was first discovered.
The virus belongs to the same family of coronaviruses as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which killed nearly 800 people globally during a 2002/03 outbreak that also started in China.
Its symptoms include fever and difficulty in breathing, which are similar to many other respiratory diseases and pose complications for screening efforts.
Zhong Nanshan, a respiratory expert and head of the health commission team investigating the outbreak, confirmed that two cases of infection in Guangdong province were due to human-to-human transmission, Xinhua said.
Some medical staff have been infected, it added, but gave no number.
South Korea on Monday confirmed its first case, a 35-year-old Chinese national who had traveled from Wuhan, the fourth patient reported outside China.
Last week, two cases were reported in Thailand and one in Japan. All three involved people from Wuhan or who recently visited the city.
The World Health Organization (WHO) said on Monday “an animal source” appeared most likely to be the primary source of the outbreak and that some “limited human-to-human transmission” occurred between close contacts.
The Geneva-based UN agency later convened an emergency committee for Wednesday to assess whether the outbreak constitutes an international health emergency and what measures should be taken to manage it.
So far, the WHO has not recommended trade or travel restrictions, but a panel of independent experts could do so or make other recommendations to limit spread.
China’s state council reiterated that the government will step up prevention efforts and find the source of infection and transmission channels as soon as possible.
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