BANGKOK: A Chinese woman has been quarantined in Thailand with a mystery strain of coronavirus, the first time it has been detected outside China, the Thai Health Ministry said on Monday (Jan 13).
A 61-year-old man last week became the first person to die in China from a respiratory illness that is believed to be caused by a new virus from the same family as SARS, which claimed hundreds of lives more than a decade ago.
Forty-one people with pneumonia-like symptoms have so far been diagnosed with the new virus in Wuhan, with seven in critical condition, Wuhan health authorities said on Saturday.
READ: Residents 'not worried' in China's pneumonia-stricken Wuhan
Thai authorities are stepping up monitoring at airports ahead of the Chinese New Year holiday next week, when hundreds of thousands of Chinese tourists are expected to visit.
Of 12 passengers quarantined since Jan 3, lab results showed that a 61-year-old Chinese woman carried a strain of the coronavirus, the Thai Health Ministry said on Monday.
The woman, who was quarantined on Wednesday, had received treatment and was well enough to return home, the ministry said.
"Being able to identify a patient shows that there is efficiency in our monitoring system. We are confident that we can manage the situation," Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul told reporters.
READ: Chinese man warded with pneumonia after travel to Wuhan not linked to outbreak in China, says MOH
The World Health Organization confirmed Monday that the first case in Thailand is of a new virus from the same family as SARS that is behind a Chinese pneumonia outbreak.
The UN health agency said a person travelling from Wuhan, China, had been hospitalised in Thailand on Jan 8 after being diagnosed with mild pneumonia.
"Laboratory testing subsequently confirmed that the novel coronavirus was the cause," WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic told AFP in an email, referring to the new virus.
WHO said it might soon host an emergency meeting on the spread of the new virus.
It stressed that it was not surprising that the virus had spread beyond China.
"The possibility of cases being identified in other countries was not unexpected, and reinforces why WHO calls for on-going active monitoring and preparedness in other countries," it said in a statement.
It pointed out that it had issued guidance on how to detect and treat people who fall ill with the new virus, and stressed that China's decision to rapidly share the genetic sequencing of the virus made it possible to quickly diagnose patients.
WHO has not recommended any specific measures for travellers or restrictions on trade with China, but stressed Monday it was taking the situation seriously.
"Given developments, WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus will consult with Emergency Committee members and could call for a meeting of the committee on short notice," it said in a statement.
The Chinese outbreak of pneumonia appears to be linked to a single seafood market in Wuhan.
Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in the city centre - where multiple pneumonia patients worked - is still cordoned off after being shut down on Jan 1.
No clear evidence of human-to-human transmission has yet been detected, according to the local health commission.
Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that can cause infections ranging from the common cold to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). Some of the virus types cause less severe disease, while some - like the one that causes Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) - are far more severe.
Thailand receives about 10 million Chinese tourists each year. The Chinese New Year holiday begins on Jan 25.