Global health body WHO considers declaring emergency
Deaths from China's new flu-like virus rose to 17 yesterday with more than 470 confirmed cases, heightening global fears of contagion from an infection suspected to have come from animals.
The previously unknown and contagious coronavirus strain emerged from the central city of Wuhan, with cases now detected as far away as the United States. Officials believe the origin to be a market where wildlife is traded illegally.
Contrasting with its secrecy over the 2002-03 Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) that killed nearly 800 people, China has this time given regular updates to try and head off panic as millions travel at home and abroad for the Lunar New Year.
"The rise in the mobility of the public has objectively increased the risk of the epidemic spreading," National Health Commission vice-minister Li Bin acknowledged.
The World Health Organization (WHO) began an emergency meeting to rule if the outbreak was a global health emergency. The meeting continued until the report was written.
Amid official exhortations to stay calm, many Chinese were cancelling trips, buying face masks, avoiding public places like cinemas and shopping centres, and even turning to an online plague simulation game or watching disaster movie "The Flu" as a way to cope.
"The best way to conquer fear is to confront fear," said one commentator on China's Twitter-like Weibo.
The virus has spread from Wuhan around China to major population centres including Beijing, Shanghai, Macau and Hong Kong, with 473 cases confirmed in the country. Abroad, Thailand has confirmed four cases, while the United States, Taiwan, South Korea and Japan have each reported one.
President Donald Trump said the United States' Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had a good containment plan. "We think it is going to be handled very well," he said at Davos in Switzerland.