Beijing – Medical authorities in China on Tuesday said a new strain of coronavirus is spreading across China where at least 291 people had been infected and six had died.
According to the National Health Commission, 77 new cases were identified on Monday alone, another 54 patients were suspected of carrying the potentially deadly virus.
The new coronavirus was identified in January in Wuhan, central China.
It belongs to the same family of viruses that caused Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), a disease that killed 800 people globally in a 2002-2003 pandemic that also started in China.
Authorities believe the latest coronavirus outbreak might have spread to 14 Chinese provinces, as well as to Taiwan, Philippines, Japan, South Korea, Thailand and Australia.
International concern over the spread of the disease grew after a high-level team of Chinese experts on Monday confirmed the virus could be transmitted from person to person.
Scientists had initially said the virus could only be contracted from animals.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) in Geneva is expected to convene a meeting on Wednesday to determine whether the outbreak of the new virus constitutes a health emergency of international concern.
Worries about the spread of the disease are aggravated by the fact that millions of people are travelling during the Lunar New Year holiday.
State media reported that Wuhan authorities on Tuesday banned tourist groups from leaving the city in an attempt to curb the spread of the new coronavirus.
The People’s Daily newspaper said Traffic police would conduct random checks of private vehicles entering and leaving Wuhan to see whether they are carrying live birds or wild animals.
It added that the city had also installed infrared thermometers at airports, railway and bus stations to identify potential new cases of the disease and has required the daily disinfection of public transport vehicles.
Several countries have started screening travellers from China and have imposed quarantine restrictions.
Australian health authorities said bio-security tests would be done on flights from Wuhan to Sydney.
Queensland’s chief medical officer, Dr Jeannette Young told reporters that a man who had recently returned to his home in Brisbane from visiting family in Wuhan was showing symptoms of the virus.
“We have done some tests on him and are awaiting test results.’’
Health officials added that a five-year-old Chinese boy in the Philippines tested positive for coronavirus, but authorities were still waiting for results of tests to determine the exact strain.
Medical authorities in Taiwan also confirmed the first case of the Wuhan coronavirus on the island after a Taiwan woman in her 50s returned from a trip to the city with a fever, cough and shortness of breath.
A statement released by the Taiwan Centers for Disease Control (CDC) said the woman was sent to a hospital directly from an airport and was placed in quarantine after the infection was confirmed.