BEIJING: The death toll from the new coronavirus outbreak has risen to six in China's central city of Wuhan as of Monday (Jan 20), the city's mayor told state television.
China also confirmed 291 cases of patients infected with the virus, a jump of more than 70 cases from the previously reported 218 patients.
There are now 270 confirmed cases in Hubei province, home to the central city of Wuhan. A total of 258 cases had been confirmed in the city by the end of Monday, Zhou Xianwang said in an interview.
The commission said there are five confirmed cases in Beijing, 14 in the southern province of Guangdong and two in Shanghai.
It added that there are over 50 suspected cases under observation in 14 other provinces and regions across China, including the northeastern Jilin province, eastern Zhejiang and southern Hainan.
Separately, China's eastern Zhejiang provincial health authority said a total of five cases of new coronavirus were confirmed as of noon on Tuesday.
Earlier, authorities in China had said that 15 medical staff had been infected and a fourth person had died.
There were also two cases identified in Thailand, one in Japan and one in South Korea, and health authorities around the world have begun to step up screening of travellers arriving from China.
Chinese authorities had also confirmed for the first time that the virus could spread through human contact.
"Information about newly reported infections suggest there may now be sustained human to human transmission," WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific Takeshi Kasai said in an email statement.
The virus can cause pneumonia, with symptoms including fever and difficulty in breathing. As those symptoms are similar to many other respiratory diseases, extra screening is needed.
The scare is a reminder of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), another coronavirus that broke out in China in 2002/2003, resulting in the death of nearly 800 people in a global pandemic.
The origin of the virus has yet to be identified, but the primary source is most likely animal, according to WHO. Chinese officials have linked the outbreak to the Huanan seafood market in Wuhan.
So far, the WHO has not recommended trade or travel restrictions but such measures could be discussed at an emergency meeting on Wednesday.
Foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said China will attend the WHO meeting and share relevant information.
"China is willing to deepen its global cooperation and work with the international community to work together to deal with the epidemic," Geng told reporters at a regular daily briefing.
Airport authorities in the United States as well as most Asian nations also are screening passengers from Wuhan.
Australia on Tuesday said it would screen passengers on flights from Wuhan, while Singapore announced it would quarantine individuals with pneumonia and a history of travel to Wuhan within 14 days prior to the onset of symptoms.
QUEUES FOR MASKS
Wuhan officials have been using infrared thermometers to screen passengers at airports, railway stations and other passenger terminals since Jan 14.
Zhong Nanshan, head of the National Health Commission's team of experts investigating the outbreak, said in footage shown by state television on Monday there was no danger of a repeat of the SARS epidemic so long as precautions were taken.
Images of long lines of people queuing to buy face masks were circulating widely on Chinese social media, where the outbreak was one of the top trending topics.
Some online vendors were limiting sales of masks and hand sanitizers as demand surged.
And Shanghai's market regulator warned on Tuesday that it will punish speculators who hoard masks and other products used for preventing diseases, according to the Shanghai Observer - a web publication backed by a Communist Party newspaper.
Trip.com, China's top online travel booking platform, said it would refund customers who cancel bookings in Wuhan this month, or whose travel plans are disrupted by quarantines or other regulatory efforts to prevent the spread of the virus.