China confirms 139 new cases of pneumonia over weekend, virus spreads to new cities

China confirms 139 new cases of pneumonia over weekend, virus spreads to new cities

China confirms 139 new cases of pneumonia over weekend, virus spreads to new cities

A man pushes his luggage as a child sits atop with a mask at the Beijing West Railway Station, ahead of Chinese Lunar New Year, in Beijing, China Jan. 20, 2020. (Reuters Photo)

China on Jan. 20 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 Jan. 18 and Jan. 19.

As of late Jan. 19, 198 cases in total had been reported in Wuhan, including three deaths. Some 170 people were still being treated in the hospital, while 25 had been cured, it said. The statement gave no further details of the latest death toll.

A third death occurred on Jan. 18, Chinese authorities said in a statement.     

This brings the total number of known cases worldwide to more than 200, underscoring the challenge for health authorities seeking to contain the outbreak.    

Hundreds of millions of Chinese tourists will be traveling domestically and abroad during the Lunar New Year holiday period that starts later this week.   

A report by London Imperial College's MRC Centre for Global Infectious Disease Analysis estimated that by Jan. 12 there were 1,723 cases in Wuhan City with the onset of related symptoms. Chinese health authorities have not commented directly on the report.          

Containment efforts     

Authorities around the globe, including in the United States and many Asian countries, have stepped up screening of travellers from Wuhan. Outside China, two cases have been reported in Thailand and one in Japan, all involving people from Wuhan or who recently visited the city.   

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.     

Its symptoms include fever and difficulty in breathing, which is similar to many other respiratory diseases and poses complications for screening efforts.      

China's National Health Commission said on Jan. 19 it will step up prevention efforts, but acknowledged it still doesn't know the source of the virus.   

Shares in pharmaceutical firms and mask makers in China surged on Jan. 20 because of the outbreak.    

The outbreak was one of the top trending topics on the Chinese social media platform Weibo, where many users expressed concerns about their safety.   

"Who knows how many people who have been to Wuhan may be unaware that they have already been infected?" one user said.   

China's Global Times, published by the ruling Communist Party's official People's Daily newspaper, said in an editorial the government needs to disclose all information and not repeat the mistakes made with SARS.

Chinese officials covered up the SARS outbreak for weeks before a growing death toll and rumors forced it to reveal the epidemic.     

"Concealment would be a serious blow to the government's credibility and might trigger greater social panic," the editorial said.