China reports 139 new cases of pneumonia as coronavirus spreads to new regions

China on Monday reported 139 new cases of pneumonia over the weekend, caused by the outbreak of a new coronavirus strain that medical experts are still struggling to understand.

Beijing’s Daxing health commission confirmed two new cases of coronavirus, while Guangdong province’s health commission confirmed one case, marking the first instances of the illness spreading beyond Wuhan, the city where cases were first discovered.

The Wuhan Municipal Health Commission said in a statement that 136 cases of coronavirus emerged in the city on Saturday and Sunday.

On Sunday, China’s National Health Commission said departments should work together to carry out preventative measures ahead of the upcoming Lunar New Year holidays as a rise in confirmed cases fanned fears the virus could spread to other countries.

“Our commission will step up our guard during the Spring Festival, pay close attention to the development and change of the epidemic, and direct the implementation of prevention and control measures,” the commission said, adding that it believes the outbreak can be controlled.

China, the World Health Organization and authorities across the globe are stepping up efforts to contain the virus, which initially emerged in Wuhan in late December as a wave of patients thought to have pneumonia.

A traveller wears a facemask at the Beijing Railway Station on Friday. (Mark Schiefelbein/Associated Press)

Many of China’s 1.4 billion people will travel domestically and abroad during the Lunar New Year break that begins next week, raising concerns about the virus spreading to other countries.

The virus belongs in the same family of coronaviruses as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which killed nearly 800 people globally during a 2002/03 outbreak that also started in China. In Canada, 44 people died, many of them healthcare workers.

Though some experts say the new virus may not be as deadly as SARS, there is still little known about it, including its origin and how easily it can be transmitted between humans.

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