The Chinese authorities warned on Wednesday in advance of the Lunar New Year travel season of the enigmatic SRAV-like virus, which killed nine people and continues to infect hundreds could spread further.
The virus has already reached the US while strict travel warnings have been issued in the other neighboring countries to contain this propagation.
The coronavirus has worried for its resemblance to SRS, which in 2002-2003 killed almost 650 people in Mainland China and Hong Kong.
Here are some key points about coronavirus
The United Nations ‘ health agency says Wuhan’s outbreak is an unprecedented strain. It is part of a broad range of viruses, from the common cold to more severe diseases like SARS.
The sevention of this new strain is the seventh known type of coronavirus that humans can contract, according to Arnaud Fontanet, Head of the Department of Epidemiology at the Pasteur Institute in Paris.
“We think that the source may have been animals sold at market and from there it passed to the human population,” he told AFP.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) says an “animal source seems the most likely primary source… with some limited human-to-human transmission occurring between close contacts”.
The outbreak has caused alarm because of the link with SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), which killed 349 people in mainland China and another 299 in Hong Kong between 2002 and 2003.
Fontanet reported that the new strain of the virus is 80% genetically similar to SARS, which also causes severe respiratory problems.
A total of 218 people in China have now been diagnosed and three people died from the outbreak.
Time to panic?
Fontanet reported that the coronavirus appears in its current form “weaker” than SARS, but cautioned that it may transform into a more virulent strain.
“We don’t have evidence that says this virus is going to mutate, but that’s what happened with SARS,” he said.
“The virus has only been circulating a short time, so it’s too early to say.”
A Chinese government expert on Monday said the strain was contagious between humans, fuelling fears of a major outbreak as millions travel for the country for the Lunar New Year holiday.
“Currently, it can be said it is affirmative that there is the phenomenon of human-to-human transmission,” Zhong Nanshan, a renowned scientist at the National Health Commission who helped expose the scale of the SARS outbreak, said in an interview with CCTV.
“We are all more concerned than we were three days ago,” he added.
“One of the consequences of a more connected world is that outbreaks have the potential to spread internationally much more rapidly than was the case 50 years ago.”
The WHO has advised individuals to guard against the virus by washing their hands thoroughly, covering the nose when sneezing, cooking meat and eggs thoroughly, and avoiding contact with wild or agricultural animals.
The US Disease Control and Prevention Centers said on Friday that they will perform more screening on passengers arriving directly from or connecting Wuhan flights.