At least 107 people have died from a new coronavirus in China following an outbreak in the central city of Wuhan, and more than 550 cases have been reported globally.
Most cases are in China, where more infections have been confirmed in recent days. There are growing concerns about the spread of the virus as hundreds of millions of people travel for the Lunar New Year celebrations, which start on Friday.
There are growing concerns about the spread of the virus as hundreds of millions of people travel for the Lunar New Year celebrations, which start on Friday.
WHAT IS CORONAVIRUS?
According to the World Health Organization, coronaviruses are a family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS).
These viruses are transmitted between animals and people. SARS, for instance, was believed to have been transmitted from civet cats to humans while MERS travelled from a type of camel to humans.
Several known coronaviruses are circulating in animals that have not yet infected humans.
A novel coronavirus, identified by Chinese authorities on January 7 and currently named 2019-nCoV, is a new strain that had not been previously identified in humans.
Little is known about it, although human-to-human transmission has been confirmed.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS?
According to the WHO, signs of infection include respiratory symptoms, fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties.
In more severe cases, it can lead to pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death.
HOW DEADLY IS IT?
Some experts say it may not be as deadly as some other types of coronavirus such as SARS, which killed nearly 800 people worldwide during a 2002-03 outbreak that also originated from China.
MERS, which did not spread as widely, was more deadly, killing a third of those it infected.
WHERE HAVE CASES BEEN REPORTED?
Mostly in China.
Chinese officials said at least 107 people have died, all in Hubei Province, of which Wuhan is the capital. That is also where most of the 571 reported cases are.
Beyond China, Thailand has reported four cases, while South Korea, Taiwan, Japan and the United States have each confirmed one.
All those cases involve people who had either come from Wuhan or been there recently.
WHAT IS BEING DONE TO STOP IT SPREADING?
There is no vaccine for the new virus.
Chinese authorities effectively sealed off Wuhan on Thursday, suspending flights and trains out of the city and telling residents they could not leave without a special reason, state media said.
The move, effective at 10 am (02:00 GMT), is meant to “resolutely contain the momentum of the epidemic spreading” and protect lives, the central city’s special command centre against the virus said, according to state broadcaster CCTV.
Chinese authorities have stepped up monitoring and disinfection efforts ahead of the Lunar New Year break, which formally starts on Friday and is when many of the country’s 1.4 billion people will travel domestically and overseas.
Airport authorities across in Asia, including Japan, Hong Kong, Thailand, Singapore, South Korea and Malaysia quickly stepped up screening of passengers from Wuhan.
In Europe, the United Kingdom and Italy have said they will introduce enhanced monitoring of flights from Wuhan, while Romania and Russia are also strengthening checks.
Some airports in the United States have also begun checks.
WHERE DID THE VIRUS ORIGINATE?
Chinese health authorities are still trying to determine the origin of the virus, which they say came from a seafood market in Wuhan where wildlife was also traded illegally. WHO also says an animal source appears most likely to be the primary source of the outbreak.
There is evidence of respiratory transmission of the virus from patient to patient, and Chinese authorities have also said that 15 medical staff in the country have been infected.
Experts particularly worry when health workers get sick during new outbreaks because it can suggest the disease is becoming more transmissible and because spread in hospitals can often amplify the epidemic.
WHAT IS NEXT?
On Thursday, the WHO is expected to announce its decision on whether to declare a global public health emergency in relation to the new coronavirus.
NIGERIAN GOVERNMENT REACTS
MEANWHILE, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control on Wednesday said there was no specific cause for the deadly coronavirus yet.
A statement released by the centre said the NCDC was working closely with the World Health Organisation to monitor the spread of the virus. It added that the Federal Ministry of Health had been placed on alert and had increased screening measures at the nation’s points of entry.
Cases of coronavirus were first reported a few weeks ago in Wuhan, China and were thought to have been contacted from animals. It was later established that transmission from human to human was possible.
The NCDC stated, “There is no specific treatment for the disease caused by the novel coronavirus yet. However, many of the symptoms can be treated. Therefore, treatment is based on the patient’s clinical condition. In addition, supportive care for infected persons can be highly effective.
The “NCDC is currently coordinating a multisectoral technical group that is assessing and managing the risk of importation to Nigeria. It is in close communication with the WHO which is monitoring the situation globally. WHO is in direct communication with the government of China and other affected countries, and has released technical and travel guidance.”
NCDC called on travellers from Nigeria to Wuhan, China, to avoid contact with sick people, animals (alive or dead), and animal markets.
It added, “Travellers from Wuhan to Nigeria may be asked questions upon arrival by the Port Health Services unit at points of entry about symptoms of illness and travel history, and are advised to report immediately to the NCDC if they fell ill after a trip to Wuhan.”
The centre said to reduce the risk of spread of the virus, members of the public should wash their hands regularly with soap under running water and to cover their mouth and nose properly with a handkerchief or tissue paper when sneezing and/or coughing.