China Confirms New Coronavirus Spreads From Humans to Humans

WUHAN, China — The mysterious coronavirus that has killed at least three people and sickened more than 200 in China is now capable of spreading from person to person, a prominent Chinese scientist said on Monday, adding to fears of a broader pandemic.

The disclosure increased pressure on the Chinese government to contain a growing public health crisis, just as China enters its busiest travel season of the year.

The authorities had previously said the deadly virus seemed capable of spreading only from animals to humans in most cases, tracing the outbreak to a market in the central Chinese city of Wuhan.

But in recent days at least two people have become infected with the pneumonialike virus even though they live hundreds of miles from Wuhan, experts said on Monday, suggesting that the illness is spreading from person to person.

“Now we can say it is certain that it is a human-to-human transmission phenomenon,” Zhong Nanshan, a scientist who is leading a government-appointed expert panel on the outbreak, said in an interview on state-run television on Monday.

The World Health Organization announced Monday that it was convening an emergency meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 22, “to ascertain whether the outbreak constitutes a public health emergency of international concern, and what recommendations should be made to manage it.”

Millions of Chinese are traveling this week for the Lunar New Year holiday, adding to fears that the virus could spread swiftly and on a broader scale. Experts said the severity of the outbreak would now depend on how many people, on average, a person with virus could infect.

“There are now sufficient cases that it’s not going to die out by chance,” said Neil Ferguson, a public health expert at Imperial College London who has studied the new virus. “The real question now is, how efficiently can this virus spread from person to person?”

China’s leader, Xi Jinping, said on Monday that the outbreak “must be taken seriously” and that every possible measure should be taken to contain it, according to the state broadcaster CCTV.

Also on Monday, the authorities reported that new cases had been detected for the first time in Beijing, in Shanghai and the southern city of Shenzhen, all hundreds of miles from Wuhan. Cases have also been reported in Japan, South Korea and Thailand.

Here is what we know about the virus, where it has been found, how it is spreading and what precautions are being taken:

The government of Wuhan first confirmed on Dec. 31 that hospitals in the city were treating dozens of patients for pneumonia with an unknown cause.

Many of the cases were connected to the Huanan Seafood Market, which also sold live poultry and exotic animal meats. Considered a likely source of the virus, the market was closed and disinfected.

The health commission in Wuhan said on Sunday that the illness had also appeared in people who had not been exposed to the market, raising the possibility that the virus could be present elsewhere in the city.

Five people who traveled from Wuhan to Zhejiang, a coastal Chinese province south of Shanghai, are being treated for fever but have not been diagnosed with the new coronavirus, the health authorities there said.


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