(Reuters) - A new virus outbreak in the city of Wuhan has spread to other parts of China, with six people confirmed dead, to the alarm of global health authorities and financial markets.
Little is known about the coronavirus strain, though human-to-human transmission has been confirmed. Some experts say it may not be as deadly as some other coronavirus such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which killed nearly 800 people worldwide during a 2002/03 outbreak that also originated from China.
Authorities have reported six deaths, all in Wuhan city, among more than 300 confirmed cases in China, mostly in the same area.
There have been five cases in the national capital Beijing.
Symptoms include fever, coughing and difficulty breathing.
Beyond China, Thailand has reported two cases and South Korea one, all involving Chinese travellers from Wuhan.
Japan and Taiwan also confirmed one case each, both involving nationals who had been to Wuhan.
Chinese health authorities are still trying to determine the origin of the virus, which has been linked to a seafood market in Wuhan. They have confirmed human-to-human transmission and that 15 medical staff in the country have been infected.
The WHO says an animal source appears most likely to be the primary source of the outbreak.
There is no vaccine for the new virus.
Chinese authorities have stepped up monitoring and disinfection efforts ahead of the Lunar New Year holiday in late January, when many of China’s 1.4 billion people will travel domestically and overseas.
Airport authorities in the United States as well as many Asian countries, including Japan, Thailand, Singapore and South Korea, stepped up screening of passengers from Wuhan.
Singapore announced on Jan. 21 that it will quarantine individuals with pneumonia and travel history to Wuhan within 14 days before the onset of symptoms.
The WHO sent directives to hospitals around the world on infection prevention and control. It has also convened an emergency committee of experts on Jan. 22 to assess whether the outbreak constitutes an international emergency.
Writing by Se Young Lee; Editing by Angus MacSwan, Himani Sarkar and Andrew Cawthorne