Chinese authorities on Jan. 19 reported a third death due to a viral pneumonia that first broke out in the central city of Wuhan.
And for the first time, China confirmed cases of infection outside of Wuhan, suggesting that the disease has spread more widely than authorities previously let on.
A London research institute estimated that the number of potential infections in Wuhan could be over 1,000.
Over the weekend, the U.S. and Canadian governments joined a growing list of countries that are stepping up monitoring of the disease to prevent its spread: three U.S. airports began screening passengers for possible infection, while three Canadian ones added alert messages for travelers from Wuhan.
The disease is caused by a new type of coronavirus, according to Chinese authorities. The latter is a family of viruses that includes the common cold, SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome), and MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome).
Early on Jan. 20, the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission announced that an additional 136 people were diagnosed with the novel coronavirus—bringing the city total to 198.
This was the largest increase since the outbreak was first confirmed by health officials in late December.
Authorities initially reported that 59 were infected. Last week, they lowered the number to 41, without explanation. For several days, authorities did not update the number, while the Japan and Thailand governments confirmed one and two cases of infection respectively—all from patients who had recently traveled to Wuhan—leading some experts to raise concerns about the veracity of Chinese figures.
Currently, nine are in critical condition, 35 in severe condition, and three have died, according to the Wuhan health commission. 25 were released from the hospital after recovering.
Other Chinese Cities
In the country’s capital Beijing, two people were diagnosed with the Wuhan pneumonia on Jan. 20.
According to state-run newspaper Beijing News, two locals caught a fever after they travelled to Wuhan, and were then hospitalized.
Both live in the Daxing district of Beijing, and are in stable condition.
And on Jan. 19, China’s National Health Commission confirmed one case of infection in Shenzhen city of southern China’s Guangdong Province.
The patient is a 66-year-old man who is from Wuhan and lives in Shenzhen.
The patient visited his family in Wuhan from Dec. 29 to Jan. 4, and began to exhibit symptoms on Jan. 3. He visited the doctor after he returned to Shenzhen, and was quarantined since Jan. 11.
Hong Kong-based newspaper South China Morning Post cited three anonymous sources in a Jan. 19 report that said one suspected patient is being hospitalized in Shanghai.
Chinese netizens began spreading information about suspected patients in Guangzhou city, the capital of Guangdong. They said there were doctors and nurses from the Sixth Affiliated Hospital of Sun Yat-sen University and the Army General Hospital in Guangzhou who were exhibiting symptoms.
The Sixth Affiliated Hospital of Sun Yat-sen University soon took to its official Weibo account—a Twitter-like social media platform—on Jan. 18 to dispel the rumors. But the hospital quickly deleted the post and refused to give any explanation when contacted by media.
On Jan. 16, Taiwan’s Centers for Disease Control issued a level two travel alert for people traveling to Wuhan, recommending that travelers “strengthen their defenses” against the disease.
In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention started on Friday screening passengers traveling from Wuhan at three major U.S. airports: New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport, Los Angeles International Airport, and San Francisco.
Also on Friday, the Public Health Agency of Canada confirmed that airports in Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver were rolling out new messages on arrival screens asking travelers from Wuhan to contact a border service agent if they are experiencing flu-like symptoms.
If a traveler steps forward, a specially trained quarantine officer would then screen him or her to identify whether there’s a potential public health risk.
So far, World Health Organization (WHO) and other health officials have said there could be a possibility of human-to-human transmission.
In a Jan. 19 report by China’s state-run broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV), Li Gang, director of the Wuhan Municipal Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said: “[We] didn’t rule out the possibility of a limited human-to-human transmission.”
And at a Jan. 16 press conference, Chuang Jen-hsiang, deputy director-general of Taiwan’s Centers for Disease Control of Health and Welfare Ministry, said that after visiting Wuhan to learn about the outbreak, he concluded that “the disease has possible human-to-human transmission.”
Chuang explained that 13 of the initial 41 patients had never been to the Huanan Seafood Market, where Wuhan authorities have linked the outbreak.
Chuang mentioned a case previously reported by Wuhan authorities of a woman who had never been to the market who fell sick after her husband, who works at the market, exhibited symptoms. In another case, a father, son, and nephew—all vendors at the market—were diagnosed with the viral pneumonia.
Meanwhile, a research institute under Imperial College London released a report on Jan. 17, in which researchers estimated that 1,723 people in Wuhan could potentially have the illness.
The calculation was based on the infection cases outside of China, number of passengers at the Wuhan airport, daily international passengers flying out of Wuhan, and the number of days before the international cases are discovered.
One of the researchers, Neil Ferguson, said that the current situation calls for more transparency and information sharing from the Chinese side in order to prevent its global spread.
“They [Chinese authorities] should be getting widespread testing of people reporting respiratory diseases with pneumonia hospitals across the city, we don’t know if that’s the case yet,” he said in an interview with The Epoch Times.
Eva Fu contributed to this report.