China virus could mutate and spread, say health authorities

Anxiety growing as new year gatherings beckon this weekend

(Image credit: (STR/AFP via Getty Images))

China says 440 people have now contracted the mysterious Sars-like virus that has killed nine people.

China’s national health commission said the virus is mainly passed through the respiratory tract and there is a danger of mutation.

“The virus may mutate, and there is a risk of further spread of the virus,” said Li Bin, deputy director of the commission.

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Li said local authorities in Wuhan, the epicentre of the outbreak, have been asked to tighten regulations of farm markets and wild animals.

Authorities will do more to screen passengers at transportation hubs like airports, ports, bus stations and train stations, using devices like thermometres and thermal body scanners, CNN says.

The virus has now spread to Chinese provinces as well as the US, Thailand and South Korea. The US is planning to begin health screenings at airports.

The Chinese government says the new strain of the coronavirus can spread between people and there are fears that nationwide festivities this weekend could lead to an escalation in infections.

China celebrates Lunar New Year on Saturday and “hundreds of millions will criss cross the country,” says The Guardian. The public have been advised to avoid densely populated areas.

Li said: “Spring festival is just around the corner… which objectively increases the risk of the disease spreading and the difficulty of prevention and control. We must not be careless, and we must be highly vigilant.”

Earlier this week, the World Health Organisation said that the virus probably spread from a seafood market in Wuhan, the capital of the central Chinese province of Hubei. The market also sells live birds and other animals.

The illness is a pneumonia-like respiratory illness, and a member of the large coronavirus family.

Common symptoms of coronavirus include a runny nose, headache, cough and fever. Shortness of breath, chills and body aches are associated with more dangerous kinds of coronaviruses.

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