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Number of known infections rises to 62, according to Wuhan health authorities
Authorities in Wuhan, Hubei province, reported 17 new cases of pneumonia caused by a new strain of coronavirus on Sunday, with three of the patients in serious condition, prompting the city to expand testing and heighten monitoring in public spaces.
The Wuhan Municipal Health Commission had also reported four new cases of viral pneumonia on Saturday. Previously, the tally of infections had stood still at 41 cases for more than a week after researchers identified a new form of coronavirus on Jan 8 as the culprit behind the pneumonia outbreak clustered in the city.
The sudden increase in new infections announced over the weekend brought the total 62, with eight patients in serious condition and two deaths. Nineteen patients have been discharged from hospitals, and the remainder are in stable condition, the commission said in a statement on Sunday.
Source still not clear
The National Health Commission said on Sunday that the overall outbreak is preventable and under control. "However, the source of the new strain of coronavirus is still not clear, the mode of transmission is not fully understood, and possible mutation of the virus requires close monitoring," it added.
The commission will fully implement disease prevention and control measures while ramping up efforts to hunt down the source of the virus and monitor potential mutations.
During the Spring Festival holiday that runs from Jan 24 to 30, the commission will increase its staff on duty to keep a close eye on the developments, and it will guide local authorities to enforce measures to curb the disease"s spread.
With the approach of the Spring Festival holiday, in which hundreds of millions of people will travel through China and abroad, authorities in Wuhan have enforced preventive measures in public places and stepped up illness detection among outbound travelers.
The Hubei Provincial Health and Family Planning Commission said on Sunday that authorities had begun taking temperatures of people traveling by air, rail or road in Wuhan.
Huang Chaolin, vice-president of Wuhan Jinyintan Hospital and a member of the expert team investigating the outbreak, said the spike in new cases is linked to the use of newly developed diagnostic kits that have enabled more accurate diagnosis of the virus.
"As detection and testing measures will be further expanded, the number of new cases is expected to rise further," he said at a news conference on Sunday.
Worldwide, Japan confirmed one case of the new virus on Thursday involving a resident of Kanagawa prefecture who had recently traveled to Wuhan. Thailand has reported two isolated cases recently－both are Chinese nationals traveling there from Wuhan.
South Korea, which reported a possible case of the viral pneumonia on Jan 8, has stepped up screening of Chinese travelers, according to a statement released by the consulate-general of China in Busan, South Korea, on Tuesday. That case has not been confirmed as being caused by the new strain of coronavirus.
The new strain belongs to a family of coronavirus that can cause infections ranging from a mild common cold to lethal respiratory conditions, including SARS, which originated in China in 2002 and by 2003 had killed 774 people.
According to the commission, the 17 newly diagnosed patients are 12 males and five females, ranging in age from 30 to 79 years old. They began displaying initial symptoms such as fevers and cough a week ago and were confirmed as having the illness on Friday.
Epidemiological studies of older cases show that some infected patients had no exposure to a local seafood market believed to be the epicenter of the outbreak, according to the commission, raising concerns of possible human-to-human transmission.
Li Gang, director of the Wuhan Disease Prevention and Control Center, reiterated on Sunday that based on preliminary research, the transmission capability of the virus is not strong and the risk of sustained spread of the virus between humans is deemed low, though the possibility cannot be ruled out.
"The majority of infections only result in minor symptoms," he said. "So far, we have traced 763 people who had close contact with confirmed cases, and observation of over 681 close contacts has been discontinued, with no such cases reported."
"As a series of prevention and control measures are being implemented and strengthened, the disease is preventable and under control," he said.
Chen Xiexin, deputy mayor of Wuhan, said major commuter hubs across the city have been equipped with infrared thermometers, and more temperature checkpoints will be set up soon.
Public health officials in the United States said early on Saturday that screening will begin at three airports－in Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York－to identify travelers from Wuhan who show symptoms of the viral pneumonia.
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