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Mysterious virus in China calls for global concern

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In this picture taken on January 21, 2020 a hospital officer wearing a face mask walks past a notice on preventing infection at a hospital, where a Chinese woman who was confirmed to have the new coronavirus strain is isolated, in Incheon. – South Korea on January 20 confirmed its first case of the SARS-like virus that is spreading in China, as concerns mount about a wider outbreak. (Photo by STR / various sources / AFP) / South Korea OUT

Chinese health authorities have not been able to identify a mysterious strain of pneumonia that has infected dozens of people and put the rest of Asia and the World Health Organisation (WHO) on alert.

Although, they have ruled out a return of the deadly severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) virus, a total of 59 cases of unknown viral pneumonia have been reported in the city of Wuhan, central China, with seven patients in critical condition.

The Wuhan Municipal Health Commission disclosed this in a statement issued on Sunday, noting that all patients are being treated in quarantine, and no deaths have been reported.

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According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), symptoms of the pneumonia are mainly fever, with a number of patients having difficulty breathing, and chest radiographs showing invasive lesions of both lungs.

The outbreak came to light in late December and prompted fears in China of a possible resurgence of SARS, an acute viral respiratory illness first reported in the country in 2002 that caused a pandemic that ripped through Asia.

SARS spread to 37 countries worldwide, infected more than 8,000 people and killed 774 from November 2002 to July 2003. The illness is brought on by a coronavirus, and symptoms include fever, cough, severe headache, dizziness and other flu-like complaints. According to the Wuhan health commission, the infection broke out between December 12 and December 29, with some of the patients employed at a seafood market in the city.

The current outbreak in Wuhan has put Asian governments on close watch, stepping up preventive measures such as airport temperature screening and notification requirements.

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said on Tuesday that the city would take “immediate action” to contain the spread of suspected pneumonia cases, including screening air passengers traveling from Wuhan, adding that doctors in the semiautonomous Chinese city must also report patients with symptoms of respiratory diseases to the authorities.

Meanwhile, a total of 21 people have been found with fever or respiratory symptoms after traveling from Wuhan, according to Hong Kong’s Hospital Authority. Seven of them have been discharged, and so far none of them has been linked to the cluster of pneumonia in Wuhan.

In South Korea, the country’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have set up a quarantine task force and warned visitors to Wuhan not to touch wild animals or poultry, or visit local markets.

However, Taiwan on Sunday stepped up measures by expanding the conditions for notification of suspected cases of Wuhan pneumonia, according to government-run news agency CNA.

The World Health Organisation said there is limited information to determine the overall risk of this reported cluster of pneumonia of unknown etiology.

The organisation said it does not recommend any specific measures for travelers, and “advises against the application of any travel or trade restrictions on China based on the current information available on this event.”

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