China reported 17 new cases of a mysterious virus on Sunday, including three patients in a severe condition, heightening concerns of more infections as hundreds of millions of people prepare to travel home for the Lunar New Year holiday.
The new coronavirus strain has caused alarm because of its connection to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS, which started in southern China in late 2002 and spread to more than two dozen countries killing nearly 800 people.
Of the 17 new cases in the central city of Wuhan – believed to be the epicentre of the outbreak – three were described as “severe” with two of those patients too critical to be moved, authorities said.
Those infected are aged from 30 to 79 years old.
The virus has now infected 62 people in Wuhan, city authorities said, with eight in a severe condition, 19 cured and discharged from hospital, and the rest remaining in isolation receiving treatment.
Two people have died from the virus, including a 69-year-old man who died on Wednesday after the disease caused pulmonary tuberculosis and damaged multiple organ functions.
Authorities said they had begun “optimised” testing of pneumonia cases across the city to identify those infected, and would begin “detection work… towards suspected cases in the city” as a next step, as well as carrying out “sampling tests”.
Scientists with the MRC Centre for Global Infectious Disease Analysis at Imperial College in London warned in a paper published on Friday that the number of cases in the city was likely to be closer to 1,700, much higher than the number officially identified.
Authorities said on Sunday that some of the cases had “no history of contact” with the seafood market believed to be the centre of the outbreak.
No human-to-human transmission has been confirmed so far, but Wuhan’s health commission has previously said the possibility “cannot be excluded”.