BEIJING: A fourth person has died from an outbreak of a new coronavirus strain in Wuhan, local health authorities said on Tuesday (Jan 21).
The victim, an 89-year-old man, is the latest casualty of a new SARS-like virus that has spread across China and reached at least three other countries in Asia.
The man fell ill on Jan 13 and was admitted to hospital with breathing difficulties five days later, according to a statement by Wuhan authorities. He died the next day.
The statement said the patient also had underlying health diseases such as hypertension, diabetes and coronary heart disease.
There are currently 169 people being treated in hospital in Wuhan, added the authorities.
In a separate statement posted on its official Weibo account, the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission said 15 medical workers in the city had been diagnosed with pneumonia with one other suspected case. Of the infected staff, one was in critical condition, it added.
News of the fourth death came after a Beijing government expert on Monday said that the virus is contagious between humans.
Scientists have scrambled to determine the mode of transmission, with a seafood market in Wuhan believed to be the centre of the outbreak.
But Zhong Nanshan, a renowned scientist at the National Health Commission who helped expose the scale of the SARS outbreak, said patients could contract the new virus without having visited the city.
"Currently, it can be said it is affirmative that there is the phenomenon of human-to-human transmission," he said in an interview with CCTV.
The authorities confirmed a total of 217 new cases of the virus in China as of 6pm local time (1000 GMT) on Monday, state television reported.
Of these, 198 were in Wuhan, the city where the disease was first discovered.
The disease has since spread beyond Wuhan to other Chinese cities, with Beijing and Shanghai confirming their first cases on Monday while more than a dozen others emerged in southern Guangdong province.
In Shanghai, officials on Tuesday confirmed a second case involving a 35-year-man who had visited Wuhan in early January, and said they were monitoring four other suspected cases.
It has also spread outside of China, with cases confirmed in Japan, South Korea and Thailand.
The World Health Organization panel will meet in Geneva on Wednesday to determine whether to declare the outbreak "a public health emergency of international concern" - a rare designation only used for the gravest epidemics.