Authorities on alert ahead of lunar new year holiday as 139 new cases of strain detected
A mysterious Sars-like virus has spread around China including to Beijing fuelling anxiety about the prospect of a major outbreak in the country as millions begin travelling for lunar new year celebrations.
Authorities reported 139 new cases of the new strain of coronavirus over the weekend, tripling the total number of infected patients since the virus was first detected last month in the central city of Wuhan to 217.
On Monday authorities said cases had been confirmed in Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangdong province in the south, heightening fears ahead of the lunar new year holiday, when more than 400 million people are expected to travel domestically and internationally.
State broadcaster CCTV said on Monday evening there were seven suspected cases in other parts of the country, including Shandong in the east, and the south-western provinces of Sichuan, Guangxi and Yunnan. Five people who travelled from Wuhan were also being treated for fevers in Zhejiang province.
Peoples lives and health should be given top priority and the spread of the outbreak should be resolutely curbed, said President Xi Jinping, weighing in on the matter for the first time.
The strain has caused alarm because of its connection to severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars), which killed nearly 650 people across mainland China and Hong Kong in 2002-03. Three people have so far died in the current outbreak, which has spread to Thailand, Japan and South Korea.
Chinas National Health Commission said it had sent working groups to all provinces to oversee outbreak prevention, describing the situation as controllable. Hospitals in Shanghai and Beijing and in Zhejiang province have comprehensively strengthened examination procedures. In Shenzhen, temperature checks have been put in place in airports, ports and railway stations.
More than 100 patients with symptoms were waiting to be seen at the Xiehe hospital in Wuhan at 6am on Monday. If you are coming now, you have to wait between three and four hours before you can see the doctors, a hospital worker said by phone.
At a hospital in Chaoyang district in Beijing, patients were being given masks and forms to fill out, detailing any recent travel to Wuhan. A nurse said preventive measures were also being taken to protect doctors
Coronaviruses are transmitted between animals and people and the outbreak in Wuhan has been linked to a now-closed seafood market where live animals were reportedly sold.