Research

Mysterious virus in China: the epidemic reaches the country, at least 200 people infected

China announced a third death on Monday and nearly 140 new cases of the mysterious virus, similar to the SARS, fueling concerns a few days from the great hunted – Chinese New Year Crusaders

As the epidemic spread to the north and the south of the country, a few days before the great Chinese New Year crossovers, China reported a third death on Monday of the mysterious virus that appeared last month.

According to the authorities, the epidemic has so far been confined to Wuhan (center), an agglomeration of some 11 millions of inhabitants. But for the first time, Chinese health officials on Monday reported new cases in other cities across the country: two in Beijing (north) and one in Shenzhen, the far south metropolis that faces Hong Kong. More than 200 people have now been infected across the country. Common point in these new cases : all the infected people had gone to Wuhan in recent weeks.

What risks of spread ?

WHO questions official figures from China

Hospitalized patients in the capital are in stable condition and are being treated for pneumonia, say local health authorities. The virus nevertheless raises growing concerns after the death this weekend of a third person since the start of the epidemic and a significant increase in the number of new cases in Wuhan (near 140, the total now reaching 198).

However, the health authorities of the city wants to be reassuring: according to them, the risk of a transmission of the virus between humans is considered “low”, even if it is “not excluded”. The focus of the outbreak appears to be a wholesale market in seafood and fish in Wuhan, where several infected patients worked. It has since been closed and decontamination operations have taken place.

The epidemic comes as the Chinese New Year festivities approach, the busiest time of the year in transport, during which hundreds of millions of people travel by bus, train and plane to visit their families. Despite the risk of spread, movement in China is not currently subject to any restrictions.

Concern abroad

Thousands of cases already?

The strain in question is a new type of coronavirus, a family with a large number of viruses. They can cause mild illnesses in humans (like a cold) but also other more serious ones like SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome). Highly contagious, this virus had killed some 650 people in mainland China and Hong Kong in 2002 – 2003. Symptoms of SARS resemble those of pneumonia, with high fever and various respiratory problems.

During the pandemic, the World Health Organization (WHO) strongly criticized China for having delayed in raising the alarm and attempted to conceal the extent of the disease. The concern is now perceptible abroad, where prevention measures are multiplying. Since Friday, the United States has been filtering flights from Wuhan to San Francisco Airport and New York JFK Airport – which both receive direct flights from Wuhan – as well as to Los Angeles, where numerous connections are ensured.

Thailand, where two cases have been identified, has also strengthened controls at its airports. Hong Kong authorities have stepped up border controls at the Autonomous Territory, including body temperature sensors.

This weekend, scientists from an Imperial College research center in London, which advises institutions like the World Health Organization (WHO), questioned official figures estimating that the number of contaminations probably exceeded a thousand in 11 January. To reach this conclusion, the researchers used the number of cases detected so far outside China (two in Thailand and one in Japan) to deduce the number of people likely infected in Wuhan, based on the data. international flights from Wuhan Airport.

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