SINGAPORE: A new strain of coronavirus has infected hundreds of people in China and overseas, killing more than 20 people since it was reported in the Chinese city of Wuhan earlier this month.
Here is what we know about the outbreak so far:
IT IS SIMILAR, BUT SO FAR MILDER THAN SARS
The pathogen appears to be a new strain of coronavirus, a family of viruses that can cause diseases such as the common cold and the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which killed hundreds in mainland China and Hong Kong between 2002 and 2003.
It has been named "2019-nCoV".
Arnaud Fontanet, head of the department of epidemiology at the Institut Pasteur in Paris, told AFP that the new strain was 80 per cent genetically identical to SARS.
The symptoms caused by the new virus appears to be less aggressive as compared to SARS, according to an AFP report. These include fever, difficulty breathing and coughing.
However, its milder nature can also cause alarm as it allows more people to travel further before symptoms can be detected, the director of the Institute of Global Health Antoine Flahault said.
SUSPECTED TO HAVE ORIGINATED FROM ANIMALS, STARTED AT A SEAFOOD MARKET IN WUHAN
The virus was first detected at a seafood market in the Chinese city of Wuhan, which has been shut down by authorities following the outbreak.
The market offered exotic wildlife for sale, including live foxes, crocodiles, wolf puppies, giant salamanders, snakes, rats, peacocks, porcupines, camel meat and other game, AFP reported.
Gao Fu, director of the Chinese centre for disease control and prevention, said authorities believe the virus likely came from "wild animals at the seafood market" though the exact source remains undetermined.
Two studies from China indicated that bats are the likely origin, as the strain was found to be closely related to a strain that exists in the animal.
"Bats being the native host of the Wuhan CoV (coronavirus) would be the logical and convenient reasoning, though it remains likely there was intermediate host(s) in the transmission cascade from bats to humans," the researchers from several institutions in China wrote in a paper.
Another study identified snakes as a possible intermediate host.
HUMAN-TO-HUMAN TRANSMISSION, NOT AIRBORNE BUT SPREAD THROUGH WATER DROPLETS
Animals have been determined as the source of the virus, but human-to-human transmission of the virus is "affirmative", top Chinese expert on infectious diseases Zhong Nanshan told state broadcaster CCTV.
It has since been passed to people who have had no contact with the market where the virus first broke out.
Doctor Nathalie MacDermott of King's College London told AFP that it seems likely that the virus is spread through droplets in the air from sneezing or coughing.
There is currently no vaccine for the virus.
Members of the public have been advised to take steps to prevent the spread of the virus. This includes wearing masks when experiencing respiratory symptoms such as coughing or sneezing, and observe good hygiene practices, like washing their hands frequently.
They should also avoid places and close contact with people who are unwell or showing symptoms of illness.
Singapore’s Ministry of Health has issued an advisory asking travellers to avoid contact with live animals and consuming raw and undercooked meat.
Those who are feeling unwell should also seek prompt medical attention, it added.
CITIES LOCKED DOWN IN CHINA
More than 800 people have been infected with the coronavirus in China, with at least 26 fatalities reported.
Most of the patients came from Wuhan, where the virus started. It has since spread to other major cities, such as Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong.
Transport in and out of Wuhan have ceased operations in an effort to prevent and control the spread of the virus.
Authorities have also locked down several cities in Hubei province as a response to the outbreak. Entertainment venues such as Shanghai’s Disneyland park, theatres and karaoke bars have also been closed down.
Hubei province authorities also said they were calling off cultural performances and public cultural venues. Travel agencies in the province have suspended business and the government has announced that refunds would be given to those who cancel transport tickets.
Beijing has also cancelled Chinese New Year holiday gatherings at temples.
NINE COUNTRIES REPORT CASES, INCLUDING SINGAPORE
The first case of the virus reported outside of China was on Jan 13, when a Chinese woman was diagnosed with mild pneumonia after returning to Thailand from Wuhan. Another case was confirmed in Japan the next day.
So far, there have been confirmed cases in nine countries outside of China. Thailand has the most reported cases, at four.
Singapore reported its first case on Jan 23 – a 66-year-old Chinese man from Wuhan who arrived in Singapore on Jan 20 and stayed at Shangri-La’s Rasa Sentosa Resort.
He reported symptoms such as a sore throat and fever and went to Singapore General Hospital, where he was diagnosed with pneumonia and identified as a suspect case. He was confirmed to have been infected by the virus on Jan 23.
Contact tracing has been initiated to identify people who may have had close contact with the man. Two other cases have since been confirmed, one of which is the man’s 37-year-old son.
Border screening has been implemented in several countries, including Singapore, as a response to the outbreak.
Budget carrier Scoot has cancelled its daily flight to Wuhan and schools across the island have asked parents to declare their travel plans for the Chinese New Year weekend.
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