BANGKOK: Thailand has seen its first case of human-to-human transmission of the new coronavirus inside the country, a health official said on Friday (Jan 31), as it raised its total number of cases to 19, the second-highest after China.
The first patient to contract the virus inside Thailand is a Thai taxi driver, said Tanarak Pipat, deputy director-general of the Department of Disease Control.
"(He) ...does not have the record of travelling to China, and it is likely that he was infected (by) a sick traveller from China," Tanarak said.
Wuhan coronavirus: Singapore to widen travel restrictions to all new visitors who recently travelled to mainland China
READ: Evacuations from Wuhan: What are the risks?
Authorities have conducted virus scans on 13 people, including three family members, who the taxi driver came into contact with. They said that initially none of them had tested positive for the virus.
"The overall risk of infection in Thailand is still low, but people should take precautions to protect themselves," Tanarak said.
Thailand's previous cases have all been either Chinese tourists or Thais who had visited China, where the virus originated.
The taxi driver is one of five other coronavirus cases confirmed in Thailand on Friday. The other four patients are Chinese nationals.
Seven of Thailand's 19 cases have recovered and gone home while 12 are still being treated at hospitals.
All but two of the cases are Chinese tourists visiting the country, the health authority said.
Thailand is sending a plane to Wuhan to bring back about 161 citizens on Saturday, a government minister said.
There have been at least nine cases of human-to-human transmission in five countries outside China: The United States, Germany, Japan, South Korea, Vietnam and now Thailand.
The World Health Organization is looking closely at cases of person-to-person transmission outside of Wuhan, which would suggest that the virus may have the potential to spread further.
China said on Friday it will be sending charter planes to bring citizens from virus-hit Hubei province who are overseas back "as soon as possible".
The ministry's comments come as a number of airlines announced they were halting or reducing flights to China as the country struggles to contain the spread of a deadly new virus.
China has advised its citizens to postpone trips abroad and cancelled overseas group tours, while several countries including Germany and Britain have urged their citizens to avoid travel to China.
The United States told its citizens Thursday night "do not travel" to China, raising its advisory status to the highest level of alert.
Japan on Friday also raised its travel warning for China, advising people to "avoid travel that is not urgent or is not necessary".
The outbreak of the coronavirus has sickened nearly 10,000 people in China with the death toll at more than 200, prompting the World Health Organization to declare an international emergency.
China has taken extreme steps to stop the spread of the virus, including effectively quarantining more than 50 million people in Wuhan and surrounding Hubei province.
The pathogen is believed to have emerged in a market that sold wild game, and spread during a Chinese New Year holiday season in which hundreds of millions of Chinese travel at home or abroad.
China is Thailand's biggest source of visitors, with about 11 million visits and 544 billion baht (US$17.5 billion) in spending last year, both making up 28 per cent of the total.
The Tourism Authority of Thailand on Friday expects a revenue loss of 95 billion baht from fewer Chinese tourists during January-April.
The government will discuss additional economic measures next week.