Authorities confirmed Tuesday that at least four people died after contracting a new virus in China, known as the coronavirus. There are more than 200 cases reported in the country so far, a majority of which are from the central city of Wuhan. Apart from this, four travellers from China tested positive for the virus in Japan, South Korea, and Thailand. Health authorities also confirmed that cases were transmitted person-to person, indicating that the illness could spread faster and more widely.
Taking note of the seriousness of the issue, Chinese President Xi Jinping Monday instructed government departments to promptly release information about the virus and deepen international cooperation.
The World Health Organization (WHO) said an animal source appears to be the primary source of the outbreak. It called for an emergency meeting of experts on Thursday, January 22, to assess whether the outbreak constitutes an international emergency.
The outbreak is believed to have originated towards the end of last year among people connected to a seafood market in Wuhan. The market has been closed for further investigation.
Initial symptoms of coronavirus include fever, cough, tightness of the chest and shortness of breath and some developed pneumonia. The family of coronaviruses cause diseases ranging from the common cold to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).
There is no vaccine for the new virus.
National and local health authorities reported 21 patients outside of Wuhan, including five in Beijing and two in Shanghai.
South Korea reported a new case of the virus involving a Chinese traveller from Wuhan. Thailand has reported two confirmed cases of the virus, both of whom are Chinese tourists from Wuhan. Japan also reported a case of a Japanese citizen who visited Wuhan.
Chinese health authorities also confirmed that 15 medical staff in the country were infected.
Medical screening of travellers from China has been stepped up globally following the dramatic increase in the number of infections. From the US to Japan, authorities have been screening travellers, especially from Wuhan, at all big airports.
Singapore announced Monday that it would quarantine individuals with pneumonia and travel history to Wuhan within 14 days, before the onset of symptoms.
Japan, Hong Kong, South Korea and other countries and regions with extensive travel links to China have stepped up measures as well.
The Indian government has confirmed that no Indian national has been infected by coronavirus.
After holding a review meeting on Monday, the Ministry of Health issued guidelines to the Ministry of Civil Aviation directing it to set up thermal screenings at the international airports in Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Bengaluru, Hyderabad and Cochin.
The Ministry of External Affairs has been asked to provide details of travelers from Wuhan city who have sought visas to come to India.
The government has also issued a travel advisory for Indians travelling to China. The advisory asks travellers to maintain good personal hygiene, wash hands frequently, follow respiratory etiquette and avoid contact with people who seem unwell. It also asks travellers to avoid raw or undercooked meat and not travel to farms. All travellers, particularly those to Wuhan city, have been asked to monitor their health very closely.
(With inputs from agencies)