China confirms more cases of mystery viral pneumonia


With some netizens likening the epidemic to the deadly outbreak of the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) virus that killed nearly 800 people in 2002-2003 after being covered up by Chinese authorities, the Hong Kong and Taiwan government have called for faster genetic testing after Chinese authorities said they were yet to confirm the cause of the outbreak.

"At the boundary checkpoints - both the airlines and the express train - there will be increased surveillance on fever using different machines", Sophia Chan Siu-chee, the Secretary for Food and Health, said after several Hong Kong government bureaus held an inter-departmental meeting to discuss the pneumonia-like cases in Wuhan.

The infected patients have been quarantined along with 121 people who had been in close contact with them, the statement read.

The outbreak prompted authorities in Hong Kong, Macao, Taiwan, South Korea, Singapore and Malaysia to take emergency measures, including stricter health control at borders and temperature screenings on all flights from Wuhan, in China's central Hubei Province, where the outbreak originated. No known SARS cases are thought to have occurred since 2004.

Of the 30 struck down by the virus, seven are in a critical condition while the others are stable, the NHC said in a statement.

Patients commonly displayed symptoms including fever, difficulty breathing, and lung damage. No obvious human-to-human transmission had been found and no medical staff had been infected, the commission said.

The highly contagious virus, a form of pneumonia, killed hundreds of people in China and Hong Kong in the early 2000s.

News of the outbreak had led to online speculation that it might be linked to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or Sars.

The MOH has also alerted all medical practitioners to be vigilant to look out for suspected cases with pneumonia who have recently returned from Wuhan.

"A number of health officials in Wuhan said that the cause of the current outbreak is not clear, and it can not be concluded that it is the SARS virus as rumoured online", the official newspaper People's Daily said on its Weibo microblog. An investigation and cleanup were under way at a seafood market in the city, which is suspected to be connected with the cases, it said. He said that a six-year-old passenger who developed a mild fever after transferring in Wuhan is now under health monitoring at home.

'We can not confirm it is what's being spread online, that it is SARS virus.

In 2003, Chinese officials were forced to apologize after it was revealed that they had covered up an outbreak of SARS for weeks.

On Jan. 2, Taiwan News reported that a 6-year-old child who arrived in Taiwan on December 31 after passing through Wuhan has developed a fever and is being closely monitored.