A pneumonia-like virus sweeping China has claimed its ninth victim and spread to a total of 440 confirmed patients, according to Chinese health officials, who said they will boost international cooperation to contain the illness.
The virus seems to be adapting and mutating, according to the head of China’s Disease Control Center, Gao Fu, who noted though that, so far, all of its changes have been in line with expectations.
Starting in the city of Wuhan, the novel coronavirus has now spread across 13 Chinese provinces, said Li Bin, the vice minister of China’s National Health Commission, on Tuesday. She said health officials are now taking the “initiative” to better equip China’s own healthcare workers, and to cooperate with the World Health Organization and neighboring countries to study the pathogen and contain its spread. Representatives of the WHO, as well as health officials from Hong Kong and Taiwan, have been invited to Wuhan to observe the virus more closely.
There may now be up to 2,197 cases of “close contact” with confirmed carriers, though another Health Commission official said he has yet to see evidence for “super spreaders” of the illness, or highly contagious patients, adding that “relevant measures” were being taken in the event such patients arise.
The abrupt increase in confirmed cases comes with improvements in methods of detection, the vice minister said, but the government has nonetheless warned the public to avoid densely populated areas nationwide. Meanwhile, officials in both Wuhan and the city of Hubei have been asked to take the “strictest possible measures” to minimize public gatherings, while residents of both cities were requested to refrain from traveling.
The Health Commission said it will continue to publicize new cases daily throughout China’s lunar New Year as researchers work to track the source of the illness and create a vaccine, adding it is now in its “most critical” stage for prevention and control.
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