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China Seeks to Contain Virus as Case Reported in Hong Kong

Bloomberg News

China ramped up efforts to contain a respiratory virus that’s killed nine people and infected hundreds, as the outbreak spread to Asia’s financial capital with the first reported case of the deadly illness in Hong Kong.
More cases of the pneumonia-causing virus emerged outside mainland China, with one diagnosis in the U.S. The Hong Kong patient is a 39-year-old man from Wuhan in central China, according to a government official.
Health officials around the world are racing to control the SARS-like virus that first appeared last month. The World Health Organization will decide Wednesday whether to declare the virus a public health emergency of international concern, a designation used for complex epidemics that can cross borders.
After volatility Tuesday, financial markets showed signs of calming Wednesday as China’s National Health Commission detailed actions to contain the disease. Asian stocks recovered some of Tuesday’s sell-off, while haven assets steadied following previous gains.

Travelers in protective masks at the Daxing international airport in Beijing on Jan. 21.
Photogragrapher: Nicolas Asfouri/AFP via Getty Images
In a briefing in Beijing Wednesday, health officials said China has stepped up monitoring of transportation links and ordered a near-complete shutdown of Wuhan, where the virus originated. Officials acknowledged that they’re still grappling to understand the pathogen, which has infected multiple medical workers.
“We are still on a learning curve,” said Gao Fu, head of Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention. “The disease will continue to develop.” It has already changed from the early stages of detection, he said in the briefing.
More on the Mystery Virus
At Wednesday’s briefing, China said it had seen no evidence yet of “super spreaders,” infected people who pass on the disease rapidly to many other people, but could not rule out that some would emerge. Super spreaders played a key role in the SARS pandemic 17 years ago, which killed almost 800 people and hurt economies across the region.
There have been 473 confirmed cases of the virus in China, according to state broadcaster CCTV.
All of the deaths so far have been from Wuhan, a city of 11 million people. They include eight men, aged 61 to 87, and a 48-year-old woman -- and almost all of them had pre-existing illnesses.

Fever, Cough

That suggests the virus poses the greatest danger to people whose health is already compromised, while children and younger people are not as easily susceptible. The virus’ symptoms include fever, cough or chest tightness, and difficulty breathing.
Both the Wuhan virus, known as 2019-nCoV, and SARS belong to the family of coronaviruses, so called because of their crown-like shape. Many such viruses cross the barrier between animals and humans.
Gao said in the Beijing briefing that the source of 2019-nCoV was wild animals sold in so-called wet markets. Some of the first group of patients in Wuhan worked or shopped at a seafood market where live animals and wildlife parts were reportedly sold.
A declaration of a public health emergency is reserved for extraordinary circumstances, according to the WHO. It can help mobilize an international response and focus government attention. The body most recently declared such an emergency last year, as an Ebola outbreak worsened in Congo.
An emergency declaration for the Wuhan virus case could include recommendations to restrict travel or trade. Such a move would come as concern grows that the virus could spread rapidly during China’s Lunar New Year break, which starts at the end of this week. Hundreds of millions of people are poised to travel for the holidays in the biggest annual migration of humans on the planet.
The WHO has formed teams at its Geneva headquarters to study the virus, its spread and its symptoms and is sending experts to China to help gather information, according to David Heymann, an infectious disease researcher in the U.K. who advises the agency.

Threat Widens

Coronavirus has spread from China to at least seven other locations
Sources: National and municipal health authorities
As they did during the SARS and Ebola outbreaks, health officials and scientists globally are tracking patients and testing samples of saliva and other fluids to determine the exact cause and severity of their ailments. They’re identifying and monitoring people with whom the patients were in contact to see if the virus is spreading easily from person to person. And they are placing restrictions on travel to try to limit the exposure to scores of new people.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, expanded its inspection of airline passengers who had spent time in China to airports in Atlanta and Chicago on Tuesday, building on the 1,200 people who had been screened in California and New York over the weekend. No new cases were uncovered.

U.S. Patient

The U.S. case is a man in his 30s who was traveling in Wuhan and arrived back in the U.S. on Jan. 15, Washington state health officials said on a call with the CDC Tuesday. The resident of Snohomish, Washington, said he hadn’t spent any time at the live-animal market where the virus is believed to have originated and didn’t have contact with anyone who was sick.
The man sought care quickly after monitoring news about the virus and is in good condition, though he has been hospitalized out of an abundance of caution, the officials said.
President Donald Trump told reporters at the World Economic Forum in Davos that the U.S. has a plan to deal with the virus.
“The CDC has been terrific,” he said. “We’re in very good shape and I think China is in very good shape also.”
U.K. health officials are preparing to raise the risk level of the virus to low from very low and issue guidance to airports, according to a person familiar with the matter. The focus of concern is London Heathrow’s Terminal 4, where about three flights arrive a week from Wuhan, according to the person, who asked not to be identified because the information isn’t public.
Those flights will be met by Public Health England and airport officials who will check passengers for visible signs of illness and provide information as needed, with Chinese language speakers on hand, the person said.
So far, the virus has spread beyond China to the U.S., South Korea, Taiwan, Japan and Thailand, with the latter country reporting four confirmed cases. Macau, a Chinese territory that’s the world’s biggest gambling hub, also reported its first case on Wednesday.
“This is an evolving situation,” said Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. “We do expect additional cases in the United States and globally.”
Chinese officials said Wednesday that Wuhan has been placed under heavy supervision. Chinese citizens from elsewhere should not go to the city unless necessary, and public gatherings through the New Year period have been canceled. Tour groups have also been banned from leaving.
Chinese citizens have been urged to take precautions, including opening windows to ventilate their homes, wash their hands regularly and wear protective masks.

— With assistance by Dong Lyu, Josh Wingrove, and Alex Morales
(Updates with Hong Kong patient details in second paragraph.)


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