The death toll from the new coronavirus now stands at 106, with the number of infections almost doubling in a day.
The number of cases confirmed by the Chinese government rose to 4,515 as of Jan. 27, up from 2,835 a day earlier — although the true figures are generally expected to be much higher.
The virus has now spread across China and into at least 16 countries globally.
The deaths are also no longer confined to Hubei province, with Beijing authorities confirming the first fatality in the Chinese capital on Monday–a 50-year-old man died from the rapidly spreading virus:
Uncertainty remains over how dangerous the virus is and how easily it spreads between humans, but this rapid increase in cases is cause for alarm.
“According to recent clinical information, the virus’s ability to spread seems to be getting somewhat stronger,” China’s National Health Commission minister Ma Xiaowei told reporters.
Coronaviruses are infections of the respiratory tract that can lead to illnesses like pneumonia or the common cold. Dr Eric Toner, a senior researcher at Johns Hopkins, said he wasn’t shocked when news of the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan in late December: “I have thought for a long time that the most likely virus that might cause a new pandemic would be a coronavirus,” he told Business Insider.
“We don’t yet know how contagious it is. We know that it is being spread person to person, but we don’t know to what extent,” said Toner.
Thailand and Hong Kong have reported eight cases each, there are five each in the US, Australia, Taiwan, Singapore and Macau, four in South Korea, Japan and Malaysia, three in France, and two in Vietnam and Canada. Germany, Sri Lanka and Nepal all have one confirmed case, but there has yet to be a known fatality outside of China.
Chinese authorities had warned on Monday that the virus –suspected to have originated from either an animal market in Wuhan or the nearby pathogen research lab– was getting stronger and that they were unclear on its potential to mutate.
Unlike the 2003 SARS outbreak, this new strain of coronavirus is infectious even during the incubation period, meaning someone can pass it on before even knowing they have it. Ma Xiaowei said the incubation period can range from one to 14 days, and that it is highly infectious during this time–with the virus being able to be transmitted by touch, and fears that it can even enter the body via the eyes.
In response to the mounting crisis, containment efforts –which to date have included travel restrictions and the cancellation of major events– are to be further bolstered across China.
The construction of Wuhan’s new emergency hospital to deal with the sick has almost been completed, days ahead of schedule:
Although Wuhan has been in strict lockdown for days now, some 5 million people are estimated to have left the city before the isolation measures came into place — any further containment efforts Chinese authorities roll-out could well be too late, and in vain.
Stay tuned for updates.
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