CDC confirms second U.S. case of Wuhan coronavirus

(Reuters) – The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday confirmed that a second case of Wuhan coronavirus in the United States had been detected in Chicago, and said as many as 63 people were being monitored as the virus spreads around the globe.

The infected person had traveled to Wuhan, China recently. The woman, 60, had not taken public transportation and was not ill when she traveled, Chicago health authorities said on a conference call.

Of the 63 people under investigation from 22 states, 11 tested negative, CDC said in a conference call with reporters.

The newly discovered virus has killed 26 people and infected more than 800, but most of the cases and all of the deaths so far have been in China, where officials have imposed restrictions on travel and public gatherings.

The CDC said it believes the immediate threat to U.S. residents remains low.

The World Health Organization on Thursday declared the virus an “emergency in China”, but stopped short of declaring it a global health emergency.

(Reporting by Saumya Sibi Joseph in Bengaluru and Julie Steenhuysen in Chicago; Editing by Shinjini Ganguli)

China heads into Lunar New Year on shutdown as virus toll hits 26

By Judy Hua and Cate Cadell

BEIJING, China (Reuters) – China shut part of the Great Wall and suspended public transport in 10 cities, stranding millions of people at the start of the Lunar New Year holiday on Friday as authorities rush to contain a virus that has killed 26 people and infected more than 800.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the new coronavirus an “emergency in China” but stopped short of declaring it of international concern.

People line up outside a drugstore to buy masks in Shanghai, China January 24, 2020. REUTERS/Aly Song

While restrictions on travel and gatherings have already been imposed to curb the outbreak, China will take stricter and more targeted measures, state television reported citing a State Council meeting on Friday, but gave no further details.

“The spread of the virus has not been cut off … Local authorities should take more responsibility and have a stronger sense of urgency,” state broadcaster CCTV said.

The Defence Ministry said it is organizing military medical experts to take part in the fight against the virus, without giving details.

Most of the cases and all of the deaths have been in China, but the virus has also been detected in Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Nepal and the United States.

Britain convened an emergency response meeting on Friday.

While health officials have been at pains to say it is too soon to evaluate the severity of the outbreak, the newly identified coronavirus has triggered alarm because it is too early to know how dangerous it is and how easily it spreads.

Symptoms include fever, difficulty breathing and coughing. Most of the fatalities have been elderly, many with pre-existing conditions, the WHO said.

As of Thursday, there were 830 confirmed cases and 26 people had died there, China’s National Health Commission said.

WUHAN ISOLATED

Most cases have been in Wuhan, where the virus is believed to have originated in a market that traded illegally in wildlife. Preliminary research suggested it crossed to humans from snakes.

China has advised people to avoid crowds and 10 cities in the central province of Hubei, where Wuhan is located, have suspended some transport, the Hubei Daily reported.

The week-long celebrations to welcome the Year of the Rat began on Friday, raising fears the infection rate could accelerate as hundreds of millions of people have already traveled to see family at home and abroad.

The city of 11 million people, and neighboring Huanggang, a city of 7 million, were in virtual lockdown. Nearly all flights at Wuhan’s airport had been canceled. Airports worldwide have stepped up the screening of passengers from China.

Checkpoints blocked the main roads leading out of town, and police checked incoming vehicles for wild animals.

About 10 people got off a high-speed train that pulled into Wuhan on Friday afternoon but nobody got on before it resumed its journey. Although it stopped there, Wuhan had been removed from the train’s schedule.

“What choice do I have? It’s Chinese New Year. We have to see our family,” said a man getting off the train who gave his family name Hu.

Some sections of the Great Wall near Beijing will be closed from Saturday, state media said.

Some temples have also closed, including Beijing’s Lama Temple where people make offerings for the new year, have also been closed as has the Forbidden City, the capital’s most famous tourist attraction.

Shanghai Disneyland will close from Saturday. The theme park has a 100,000 daily capacity and sold out during last year’s new year holiday. Film premieres have also been postponed and McDonald’s suspended business in five cities in Hubei province.

In Wuhan, where the outbreak began last month, pharmacies were running out of supplies and hospitals were flooded with nervous resident seeking medical checks.

The city was rushing to build a 1,000-bed hospital for the infected by Monday, the official Changjiang Daily reported.

“There’s so much news, so much data, every 10 minutes there’s an update, it’s frightening, especially for people like us in a severely hit area,” Lily Jin, 30, a resident of the city, told Reuters by phone.

VACCINE QUEST

The WHO said on Thursday it was a “bit too early” to designate the outbreak a public health emergency of international concern, which would require countries to step up their response.

Some experts believe the virus is not as dangerous as the one that caused the 2002-03 outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, which also began in China and killed nearly 800 people, or the one that caused Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), which has killed more than 700 people since 2012.

There is no known vaccine or particular treatment yet.

“There is some work being done and there are some trials now for MERS (vaccines). And we may look at some point whether those treatments and vaccines would have some effect on this novel coronavirus,” WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic said on Friday.

Gilead Sciences Inc said it was assessing whether its experimental Ebola treatment could be used. Meanwhile, three research teams were starting work on vaccines, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations said.

The virus is expected to dent China’s growth after months of economic worries over trade tensions with the United States, unnerving foreign companies doing business there.

Shares in luxury goods firms have suffered from the anticipated drop in demand from China, and on Friday French spirits group Remy Cointreau said it was “clearly concerned” about the potential impact.

(Reporting by Roxanne Liu, David Stanway, Martin Pollard, Tony Munroe, Muyu Xu, Engen Tham, Cate Cadell, Judy Hua and Ben Blanchard; Writing by Michael Perry, Robert Birsel; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore and Alison Williams)

16 people monitored for contact with U.S. coronavirus victim

(Reuters) – At least 16 people had close contact with a Washington state man diagnosed as the first U.S. case of the coronavirus and are being monitored for the illness that has killed 17 people in China and sickened hundreds more, local officials said.

The patient, a 30-year-old man, is doing well and may soon be released from an Everett, Washington hospital, officials told press conferences.

None of the people who were in close contact with the patient have developed the illness, said Chris Spitters, health officer for the Snohomish Health District.

“The risk to the general public remains low,” Spitters said, adding that he would not be surprised if the number of people believed to have been in close contact with the man increased.

The man fell ill over the weekend after traveling to Wuhan, China, his hometown, in November and December and was diagnosed with coronavirus on Monday.

The virus, which causes respiratory symptoms similar to a cold or flu, has been linked to a seafood market in Wuhan, the largest city in central China with a population of about 11 million. That market has since been shut down.

(Reporting by Andrew Hay in New Mexico; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

Oil falls as spectre of China virus looms over fuel demand

By Julia Payne

LONDON (Reuters) – Oil prices fell on Thursday on concern that the spread of a respiratory virus from China could lower fuel demand if it stunts economic growth in an echo of the SARS epidemic nearly 20 years ago.

Brent crude futures  were down 88 cents, or 1.39%, at $62.33 a barrel by 1225 GMT, having earlier touched their lowest since Dec. 4. They lost 2.1% in the previous session.

U.S. West Texas Intermediate futures  fell 89 cents, or 1.57%, to $55.85 a barrel after earlier falling to the lowest since Dec. 3. The contract declined 2.7% on Wednesday.

On Thursday, China put on lockdown two cities that were at the epicentre of a new coronavirus outbreak that has killed 17 people and infected nearly 600, as health authorities around the world scrambled to prevent a global pandemic.

The potential for a pandemic has stirred memories of the Sudden Acute Respiratory Syndrome outbreak in 2002-03, which also started in China and dented economic growth and caused a slump in travel.

“Fundamentals are really being driven by virus fears. On a technical basis, there’s been a fight over the past six sessions but oil finally broke the 200-day moving average when it closed below that level yesterday,” said Olivier Jakob, of consultancy Petromatrix.

Cases have been detected as far as away as the United States and global stock markets were also down in part due to fears of the virus spreading further as millions of Chinese prepare to travel for the Lunar New Year.

Beijing said on Thursday that it had cancelled major public events, including two well-known Lunar New Year temple fairs, to curb the spread.

“We estimate a price shock of up to $5 (a barrel) if the crisis develops into a SARS-style epidemic based on historical oil price movements,” JPM Commodities Research said in a note.

The U.S. bank maintained its forecast for Brent to average $67 a barrel in the first quarter and $64.50 a barrel throughout 2020.

Amid all the demand concerns, however, supply remains plentiful.

U.S. crude stockpiles rose last week by 1.6 million barrels, against expectations of a drop, the American Petroleum Institute said late on Tuesday. [API/S]

Brazil also produced more than a billion barrels of oil in 2019, a first for the South American nation, the national oil regulator said on Wednesday.

China, meanwhile, released data on Thursday showing its gasoline exports rose nearly a third last year thanks to new refineries.

(Additional reporting by Aaron Sheldrick in Tokyo; Editing by David Goodman and Bernadette Baum)

Putin proposes 2020 summit with leaders of Russia, France, China, U.S. and UK

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday proposed holding a summit between the leaders of Russia, China, the United States, France and Britain in 2020 to discuss the conflict in Libya and other global problems.

Putin, who was speaking during a trip to Israel, said Moscow was ready for a “serious conversation” with the permanent members of the UN Security Council, that there was much to discuss and that the summit could happen anywhere in the world.

“In any country, at any point of the world that is convenient for our colleagues. Russia is ready for this kind of serious conversation,” he said.

“There are many tasks before us. We discussed one of them very recently in Berlin…That is Libya. And we need to return to this problem at the Security Council and adopt the corresponding resolution,” he said.

Putin, who was in Israel on Thursday to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, said holding such a summit would be an important symbolic step ahead of the 75th anniversary of the end of World War Two.

“We discussed (this) with several colleagues and as far as I understand in general we saw a positive reaction to holding a meeting of the heads of the permanent members of the UN Security Council…” he said.

(Reporting by Darya Korsunskaya; writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Alex Richardson)

China orders ‘unprecedented’ lockdown of two cities at virus epicenter

China orders ‘unprecedented’ lockdown of two cities at virus epicenter
By Yawen Chen and Se Young Lee

BEIJING (Reuters) – China on Thursday locked down two cities at the epicenter of a coronavirus outbreak that has killed 17 people and infected nearly 600, as health authorities around the world took action to prevent a global pandemic.

Health officials fear the transmission rate will accelerate as hundreds of millions of Chinese travel at home and abroad during week-long holidays for the Lunar New Year, which begins on Saturday.

The previously unknown virus strain is believed to have emerged late last year from illegally traded wildlife at an animal market in the central Chinese city of Wuhan.

Most transport in Wuhan, a city of 11 million people, was suspended on Thursday morning and people were told not to leave. Hours later, neighboring Huanggang, a city of about 7 million people, announced a similar lockdown.

“The lockdown of 11 million people is unprecedented in public health history, so it is certainly not a recommendation the WHO has made,” Gauden Galea, the World Health Organization’s representative in Beijing, told Reuters.

Other cities were also taking steps to restrict movement and contact. Nearby Ezhou shut its train stations. The capital Beijing canceled major public events, including two well-known Lunar New Year temple fairs, the state-run Beijing News said.

Airports worldwide were screening passengers arriving from China.

There is no vaccine for the virus, which can spread through respiratory transmission. Symptoms include fever, difficulty in breathing and cough, similar to many other respiratory illnesses.

Preliminary research suggested it was passed on to humans from snakes, but government medical adviser Zhong Nanshan has also identified badgers and rats as possible sources.

WHO MEETING

The WHO has said it will decide on Thursday whether to declare the outbreak a global health emergency, which would step up the international response.

If it does so, it will be the sixth international public health emergency to be declared in the last decade. A WHO news conference is expected some time after 1800 GMT.

Chinese authorities gave no new details on the numbers of virus infections but it has been reported in Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong. Of eight known cases worldwide, Thailand has confirmed four, while Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and the United States have reported one each.

Authorities had confirmed 571 cases and 17 deaths by the end of Wednesday, China’s National Health Commission said. Earlier, it said another 393 suspected cases had been reported.

In a report on Wednesday, Imperial College London said it estimated a total of 4,000 cases of the coronavirus in Wuhan alone as of Jan. 18, an infection rate based on the number of cases reported in China and elsewhere.

Wuhan shut down all urban transport networks and suspended outgoing flights from 10 a.m. (0200 GMT). Domestic media said some airlines were operating after the deadline, however.

Wuhan’s Hankou rail station was nearly deserted, with gates blocked, state broadcasts showed. The government urged citizens not to leave the city.

State media reported highway toll booths around Wuhan were closing down, which would effectively cut off road exits. Guards were patrolling highways, one resident told Reuters.

As the city slipped into isolation, residents thronged into hospitals for checks and scrambled for supplies, clearing out supermarket shelves and queuing for petrol.

Authorities in Huanggang ordered indoor entertainment venues including cinemas and internet cafes to close.

FACE MASKS

In contrast with its secrecy over the 2002-03 Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) that killed nearly 800 people, China’s Communist Party government has provided regular updates to avoid panic ahead of the holidays.

During a visit to Wuhan, Vice Premier Sun Chunlan said authorities needed to be open about the virus and efforts to contain it, the official Xinhua news agency said.

Some experts believe the new virus is not as dangerous as previous coronaviruses such as SARS and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), which has killed more than 700 people since 2012.

“The early evidence at this stage would suggest it’s not as severe,” Australia’s Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy told reporters.

Despite China’s response, world shares fell on Thursday, led by the biggest tumble in Chinese stocks in more than eight months, as concern mounted about the outbreak. China’s yuan fell to a two-week low. [MKTS/GLOB]

The economic impact of such outbreaks are hard to quantify but a 2006 estimate by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) calculated that SARS shaved just over 1 percentage point off the GDP of China in 2003.

InterContinental Hotels and Hyatt are allowing guests to change or cancel stays at most Chinese hotels.

A general view shows the monitors of thermal scanners that detect temperatures of passengers at the security check inside the airport in Guatemala City, Guatemala January 22, 2020. REUTERS/Luis Echeverria

Many Chinese were cancelling trips, buying face masks and avoiding shopping centers.

The release of seven movies over the Lunar New Year has been postponed. The holiday is the high season for distributors and cinemas attract huge crowds.

Airports globally, including in Britain, stepped up screening of passengers from China and the European Centre for Disease Control and Prevention said the further global spread of the virus was likely.

“All the fatalities have so far been contained to mainland China, however, this is a rapidly developing situation and the number of deaths and the number of cases is likely to be higher than those that have been confirmed so far and I expect them to rise further,” Health Secretary Matt Hancock told the British parliament.

(Reporting by Yawen Chen, Se Young Lee, Sophie Yu and Gabriel Crossley in Beijing, Sam Shen and Engen Tham in Shanghai, Ben Blanchard in Taiwan, Alison Lui and Donny Kwok in Hong Kong, John Geddie and Aradhana Aravindan in Singapore, Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva, Kate Kelland and Elizabeth Howcroft in London; Writing by Michael Perry; Editing by Stephen Coates and Clarence Fernandez and Alison Williams)

Global alarm mounts as China virus deaths hit 17

By Cate Cadell and David Stanway

BEIJING/SHANGHAI (Reuters) – Deaths from China’s new flu-like virus rose to 17 on Wednesday with more than 540 cases confirmed, increasing fears of contagion from an infection suspected to originate from illegally traded wildlife.

The previously unknown coronavirus strain is believed to have emerged from an animal market in central city of Wuhan, with cases now detected as far away as the United States.

Contrasting with its secrecy over the 2002-03 Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) that killed nearly 800 people, China’s communist government has this time given regular updates to try to avoid panic as millions travel 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 said.

The World Health Organization (WHO) was meeting in a high-tech room at its Geneva headquarters to decide whether the outbreak is a global health emergency.

Many Chinese were cancelling trips, buying face masks, avoiding public places such as cinemas and shopping centers, 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 to population centers including Beijing, Shanghai, Macau and Hong Kong.

With more than 11 million people, Wuhan is central China’s main industrial and commercial center and a transport hub, home to the country’s largest inland port and gateway to its Three Gorges hydroelectric dam.

The latest death toll in Hubei province, of which Wuhan is the capital, rose from nine to 17 by midday on Wednesday, state television quoted the provincial government as saying.

The official China Daily newspaper said 544 cases had now been confirmed in the country. Thailand has confirmed four cases, while the United States, Taiwan, South Korea and Japan have each reported one.

U.S. President Donald Trump said U.S. 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.

RESPIRATORY THREAT

Li said the virus, which can cause pneumonia and has no effective vaccine, was being spread via breathing. Symptoms include fever, coughing and difficulty breathing.

“I believe the government for sure, but I still feel fearful. Because there’s no cure for the virus,” said Fu Ning, a 36-year-old woman in Beijing. “You have to rely on your immunity if you get an infection. It sounds very scary.”

Fears of a pandemic initially spooked markets but they regained their footing on Wednesday.

But companies across China, from Foxconn  to Huawei Technologies and HSBC Holdings , warned staff to avoid Wuhan and handed out masks.

Terry Gou, founder of Apple supplier Foxconn, said he was advising employees not to visit China. Automaker General Motors Co, which operates a plant in Wuhan in a joint venture with China’s SAIC Motor, placed a temporary restriction on employees’ travel to Wuhan.

The chief executive of one of the world’s largest aircraft lessors, Aercap, said he expected the virus to impact Chinese airlines’ profitability in the first quarter.

Chinese officials believe wildlife trafficked at a Wuhan market was the source of the virus. Two sources said provincial and city officials in Wuhan had been told to remain in the city, and those who have left were told to report their whereabouts.

WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic said new cases would appear as China increased monitoring. But Li said there was no evidence of “super-spreaders” capable of disseminating the virus more widely, as happened during the SARS outbreak. SARS was thought to have crossed to humans from civet cats sold for food.

GLOBAL PRECAUTIONS

Airports globally stepped up screening from China.

Russia strengthened its sanitary and quarantine controls, Britain said it was starting enhanced monitoring of passengers from Wuhan, and Singapore started screening all passengers from China. Italy created a task force to monitor the possible spread of the virus.

The Chinese-ruled gambling hub of Macau confirmed its first case of pneumonia linked to the coronavirus and tightened body-temperature screening measures.

A first case emerged in Chinese-ruled Hong Kong, media reported, with the patient arriving via high-speed railway from the mainland, and Mexico was investigating a potential case.

North Korea banned foreign tourists, several foreign tour operators said. Some qualifying boxing matches for the 2020 Olympics set for Wuhan were canceled and women’s football qualifiers were shifted to Nanjing.

China’s Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission, the top legal authority, said anyone failing to report virus cases “will be forever nailed to the pillar of historical shame”.

But some experts were skeptical. “We have reason to doubt whether surv (surveillance) is adequate as cases mount,” tweeted Lawrence Gostin, a public health expert at Georgetown University Law School in Washington.

(Reporting by Cate Cadell, Lusha Zhang and Jiang Xihao in Beijing, David Stanway in Shanghai, Anne Marie Roantree in Hong Kong, Ben Blanchard in Taipei, Josh Smith in Seoul, Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva, Kate Kelland in London, Alexandra Alper in Davos, Shreyashi Sanyal in Bangalore, Ian Ransom in Melbourne; Writing by Andrew Cawthorne and Timothy Heritage; Editing by Janet Lawrence and Nick Macfie)

China virus deaths rise to nine, heightening global alarm

By Cate Cadell and David Stanway

BEIJING/SHANGHAI (Reuters) – Deaths from China’s new flu-like virus rose to nine on Wednesday 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.

Amid official exhortations to stay calm, many Chinese were cancelling trips, buying face masks, avoiding public places like cinemas and shopping centers, 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 centers 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.

RESPIRATORY THREAT

Li said the virus, which can cause pneumonia, was being spread via breathing. Symptoms include fever, coughing and difficulty breathing. About 2,200 people in contact with infected people were in isolation.

There is no vaccine for the virus.

“I believe the government for sure, but I still feel fearful. Because there’s no cure for the virus,” said Fu Ning, a 36-year-old woman in Beijing. “You have to rely on your immunity if you get an infection. It sounds very scary.”

Fears of a pandemic initially spooked markets, with aviation and luxury goods stocks hit and the yuan falling, but they were regaining their footing on Wednesday in approval of China’s containment response.

Across China, companies from Foxconn <2317.TW> to Huawei Technologies [HWT.UL] and HSBC Holdings <HSBA.L> were warning staff to avoid Wuhan and handing out masks. Terry Gou, the billionaire founder of Apple <AAPL.O> supplier Foxconn, said he was advising employees not to visit China.

With more than 11 million people, Wuhan is central China’s main industrial and commercial center and an important transport hub, home to the country’s largest inland port and gateway to its giant Three Gorges hydroelectric dam.

WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic said new cases would appear as China stepped up monitoring. But Li said there was no evidence of “super-spreaders” capable of disseminating the virus more widely, as happened during the SARS outbreak. SARS was thought to have crossed to humans from civet cats sold for food.

GLOBAL PRECAUTIONS

Airports round the world have stepped up screening of people from China.

The Chinese-ruled gambling hub of Macau confirmed its first case of pneumonia linked to the coronavirus and tightened body-temperature screening measures.

A first case of the virus emerged in Hong Kong on Wednesday, media reported. The patient arrived via high-speed railway from the mainland and had been quarantined.

“The whole world is watching,” the city’s commerce secretary, Edward Yau, told Reuters at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

North Korea banned foreign tourists from Wednesday due to the virus, several foreign tour operators said, losing one of its main sources of foreign currency.

Sport too was affected, with some qualifying boxing matches for the 2020 Olympics set for Wuhan canceled and women’s football qualifiers shifted to Nanjing.

China’s Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission, the top legal authority in the communist-ruled country, posted on Tuesday that anyone failing to report virus cases “will be forever nailed to the pillar of historical shame”.

And state broadcaster CCTV has shown footage of doctors in quarantine gear in Wuhan.

But despite such openness, some experts were sceptical.

“We have reason to doubt whether surv (surveillance) is adequate as cases mount,” tweeted Lawrence Gostin, a public health expert at Georgetown University Law School in Washington.

Neil Ferguson, an infectious disease specialist at Imperial College London, estimated the number of cases in Wuhan at about 4,000 and predicted the outbreak would spread fast.

“Novel viruses can spread much faster through the population than other viruses because we have no immunity to them,” he said.

(Reporting by Cate Cadell, Lusha Zhang and Jiang Xihao in Beijing, David Stanway in Shanghai, Anne Marie Roantree in Hong Kong, Ben Blanchard in Taipei, Josh Smith in Seoul, Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva, Kate Kelland in London, Alexandra Alper in Davos, Shreyashi Sanyal in Bangalore, Ian Ransom in Melbourne; Writing by Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

Health officials confirm first U.S. case of China coronavirus, expand screening

By Julie Steenhuysen

(Reuters) – A U.S. resident who recently traveled to China has been diagnosed with the newly identified coronavirus that has sickened more than 300 people and killed at least six in China, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said on Tuesday.

The U.S. patient is responding well to treatment and was not severely ill, CDC and Washington State health officials said.

CDC officials said the agency is preparing for more U.S. cases of the coronavirus that originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan, and raised its travel alert for Wuhan to a level 2, calling for enhanced precautions. Under that alert level, the CDC recommends travelers to Wuhan should avoid contact with sick people, animals or animal markets.

“We do expect additional cases in the United States and globally,” Dr. Nancy Messonnier, a CDC respiratory diseases expert said on a conference call with reporters.

CDC officials said they have begun tracking down individuals who came in contact with the patient to check them for symptoms.

Last week, the CDC began screening travelers from China at U.S. airports in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco. On Tuesday, the agency said it will expand screening for the virus to the Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta and O’Hare International Airport in Chicago.

Besides the United States, cases outside of China have been reported in South Korea, Thailand and Japan.

“I don’t think looking at what we know so far that this it on the scale of SARS and MERS, the two most significant coronavirus outbreaks that we know from history,” Dr. Amesh Adalja, from the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security, said in a phone interview.

“It is early days in this outbreak and we don’t have a good handle on the severity of illness,” Adalja added.

On the call, CDC officials said they have screened more than 1,200 passengers since Jan. 17. None of them have been sent on for additional testing.

The U.S. traveler from Washington state had returned on Jan. 15, arriving at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, which is not on the U.S. list for enhanced screening.

The patient sought care at a medical facility in Everett, Washington, and was treated for the illness. Based on his travel history and symptoms, healthcare professionals suspected the new coronavirus.

Specimens were taken from the patient and sent to the CDC for testing. The agency said it has developed a new test that allowed it to identify the presence of the virus in a traveler.

Washington state health officials said they are taking steps to protect the public and continue to believe the risk is low. Healthcare personnel are taking precautions to prevent the infection from spreading to hospital staff, they added.

As is often the case, preliminary information suggests older adults with underlying health conditions may be at increased risk of severe disease, CDC’s Messonnier said.

The agency is working with health officials in China and globally to better understand the virus and any potential treatments.

Messonnier confirmed that the CDC is working with the U.S. National Institutes of Health to develop diagnostics and a vaccine. U.S. officials have said it could take at least a year of testing before any vaccine could be used on the public.

(Reporting by Manas Mishra in Bengaluru and Julie Steenhuysen in Chicago; Editing by Bill Berkrot)

New China virus claims sixth victim as holiday travel stokes risk

New China virus claims sixth victim as holiday travel stokes risk
By Se Young Lee and Lusha Zhang

BEIJING (Reuters) – The toll from a new virus in China rose to six deaths and more than 300 cases on Tuesday as millions of Chinese prepared to travel for the Lunar New Year, heightening contagion risks.

Many in China scrambled to buy face masks to protect themselves from the previously unknown, flu-like coronavirus infection and airports around the world tightened screening.

The outbreak, which began in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, also worried financial markets as investors recalled the economic damage from China’s Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) epidemic in 2002/2003 that it initially covered up.

The SARS coronavirus outbreak killed nearly 800 people then.

“We’ll stay at home during the holiday. I’m scared as I remember SARS very well,” said Zhang Xinyuan, who had been bound from Beijing for the Thai resort of Phuket before she and her husband decided to cancel their air tickets.

Authorities have confirmed more than 300 cases of the new coronavirus in China, mostly in Wuhan, a provincial capital and transportation hub, where it may have come from a seafood market.

Symptoms include fever, coughing and difficulty in breathing, and the viral infection can cause pneumonia.

Wuhan mayor Zhou Xianwang told Chinese state television on Tuesday six people had died in his city. The disease was spreading further around other parts of China, however, including five cases in the national capital Beijing.

Fifteen medical personnel are among those infected.

Abroad, Thailand has reported two cases and South Korea one, all involving Chinese from Wuhan. Japan and Taiwan also confirmed one case each, both nationals who had been to Wuhan.

The World Health Organization (WHO) will hold a meeting on Wednesday to consider whether the outbreak is an international public health emergency.

MEDICS AND MARKETS ALARMED

“Information about newly reported infections suggest there may now be sustained human-to-human transmission,” said WHO’s regional director for the western Pacific, Takeshi Kasai.

Taiwan, the self-ruled island that China claims as its own, set up an epidemic response center. More than 1,000 beds were prepared in isolation wards in case the virus spreads further.

North Korea was to temporarily ban foreign tourists, who are mainly Chinese, a foreign tour operator said.

The scare stirred risk aversion on global markets, with Asia particularly hit.

Hong Kong, which suffered badly during the SARS outbreak, saw its index fall 2.8% <.HSI>. Japan’s Nikkei <.N225> lost 0.9% and Shanghai blue chips <.CSI300> 1.7%, with airlines under pressure.

In Europe, shares of luxury goods makers, which have large exposure to China, were among those declining the most.

China’s yuan fell almost 0.7% in offshore trading to 6.9126 per dollar <CNH=D3>. Onshore, it dipped to its lowest in over a week at 6.9094 <CNY=CFXS>.

Though the origin of the virus has yet to be identified, WHO said the primary source was probably animal. Chinese officials have linked the outbreak to Wuhan’s seafood market.

MORE SCREENING AND MASKS

“The outbreak of a SARS-like coronavirus in Wuhan is developing into a major potential economic risk to the Asia-Pacific region now that there is medical evidence of human-to-human transmission,” said Rajiv Biswas, Asia Pacific Chief Economist for IHS Markit.

So far, the WHO has not recommended trade or travel restrictions but they may be discussed on Wednesday.. China’s National Health Commission is also scheduled to give an update at a press briefing at 10 a.m. (0200 GMT) on Wednesday.

Airports in the United States, Australia and across Asia have begun extra screening for passengers from Wuhan.

In the city itself, officials have been using infrared thermometers to screen passengers at airports, railway stations and other passenger terminals since Jan. 14.

The Lunar New Year is a major holiday for Chinese, many of whom travel to join family or have a foreign holiday.

Long lines formed to buy face masks in cities. Some online vendors limited sales of masks and hand sanitizers as demand surged.

Shanghai city’s market regulator warned it would punish speculators hoarding masks or other products used for preventing infectious diseases, according to the Shanghai Observer web publication.

Chinese travel booking platforms from Trip.com <TCOM.O> to Alibaba Group’s <BABA.N> Fliggy said they would offer free cancellations on bookings made for Wuhan, while South Korean budget airline T’way Air <091810.KS> postponed its launch of a new route to the city.

Zhong Nanshan, head of the National Health Commission’s team investigating the outbreak, sought to ease alarm, saying in footage shown by state television there was no danger of a repeat of the SARS epidemic so long as precautions were taken.

(Reporting by Brenda Goh in Shanghai, Se Young Lee, Sophie Yu, Lusha Zhang, Huizhong Wu and Judy Hua in Bejing, John Geddie in Singapore; Josh Smith in Seoul; Kate Kelland in London; Writing by Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Angus MacSwan)