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Human-to-human transmission of new coronavirus confirmed, Chinese official says

The head of Chinese government expert team has confirmed human-to-human transmission of new coronavirus, The Associated Press reports, citing state media.

Earlier Monday, officials said 17 more people in central China have been diagnosed with a new form of viral pneumonia that has killed two patients and placed other countries on alert during a key holiday period.

In total, 62 cases of the novel coronavirus have been identified in the city of Wuhan, where the virus appears to have originated. The Wuhan Municipal Health Commission reported the new cases Sunday.

Nineteen of those individuals have been discharged from the hospital, while two men in their 60s — one with severe pre-existing conditions — have died from the illness.

At least a half-dozen countries in Asia have started screening incoming airline passengers from central China. The list includes Thailand and Japan, which have together reported three cases of the disease in people who had come from Wuhan.

The new virus belongs in the same large family of coronaviruses that includes Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which killed nearly 800 people globally during a 2002-03 outbreak, which also started in China.

Though experts say the new virus does not appear to be as lethal as SARS, there is little known about its origins and how easily it can spread. Thailand and Japan have confirmed new cases of the virus earlier this week, stoking worries globally as many of the 1.4 billion Chinese people will travel abroad during the Lunar New Year holidays that begin next week.

Authorities around the world including in the United States, Thailand and South Korea have stepped up monitoring of travellers from Wuhan as part of their efforts to prevent the disease from spreading.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has also warned that a wider outbreak is possible, though it has advised against any travel restrictions for China.

CBSA ‘monitoring the situation closely’

U.S. authorities have said they would start screening at three airports — New York City’s JFK International Airport, San Francisco International Airport and Los Angeles International Airport — to detect travellers arriving via direct or connecting flights from Wuhan who may have symptoms of the new virus.

The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) said on Friday it will not implement extra screening measures, but is “monitoring the situation closely with our partners on both sides of the border.”

The CBSA did say there are plans in progress “to implement signage” in Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal airports to raise awareness of the virus to travellers. The agency says there are no direct flights from Wuhan to Canada.

A report published by the London Imperial College’s MRC Centre for Global Infectious Disease Analysis said there are likely “substantially more cases” of the new coronavirus than currently announced by Wuhan authorities; its base scenario estimate is that there would be 1,723 cases showing onset of related symptoms by Jan. 12.

The WMHC referred Reuters queries about the report to the National Health Commission (NHC) and the Hubei provincial government, but the NHC and the Hubei government did not immediately respond to Reuters requests for comment. Wuhan is the capital of Hubei province.

A woman pushes a wheelbarrow past the closed Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market on Friday. Local authorities have confirmed that a second person in the city has died of a pneumonia-like virus. (Getty Images)

In Asia, authorities in Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan and Thailand have stepped up monitoring of passengers from Wuhan at airports. Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines say they have strengthened screening at all points of entry in response to the outbreak, as well.

But Alexandra Phelan, global health legal expert at Georgetown University’s Center for Global Health Science and Security, said such screening may be insufficient in preventing the virus from spreading as its symptoms, which include fever, cough and difficulty in breathing, are “quite general.”

“There are likely to be many individuals with matching symptoms due to an illness that is not 2019-nCoV,” Phelan said, referring to the new virus.

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