China reported four more cases of pneumonia believed to be caused by a new coronavirus strain, causing rising concern globally that a disease health officials do not yet fully understand could spread during a key holiday period.
The new virus, which was discovered in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, belongs in the same large family of coronaviruses that includes Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which killed nearly 800 people globally during a 2002/03 outbreak that also started in China.
Though experts say the new virus does not appear to be as lethal as SARS, there is little known about its origins and how easily it can spread. Thailand and Japan have confirmed new cases of the virus earlier this week, stoking worries globally as many of the 1.4 billion Chinese people will travel abroad during the Lunar New Year holidays that begin next week.
Authorities around the world including in the United States, Thailand and South Korea have stepped up monitoring of travellers from Wuhan as part of their efforts to prevent the disease from spreading.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has also warned that a wider outbreak is possible, though it has advised against any travel restrictions for China.
The Wuhan Municipal Health Commission (WMHC) said on Saturday the four new individuals diagnosed with the new virus are in stable condition, adding it has confirmed 45 cases in the city as of Thursday. A day earlier, the commission confirmed the death of a second patient.
Nearly 50 people are now known to have been infected globally, but all of them either live in Wuhan or have travelled to the city.
A report published by the London Imperial College’s MRC Centre for Global Infectious Disease Analysis said there are likely “substantially more cases” of the new coronavirus than currently announced by Wuhan authorities: its base scenario estimate is that there would be 1,723 cases showing onset of related symptoms by Jan. 12.