China has confirmed the first examples of the deadly WuhanCoronavirus spreading from human to human, with medical workers currently among the infected.
More than 200 cases of the disease have been confirmed so far with instances also being reported in Japan, Thailand and South Korea.
Believed to have originated in a seafood market in Wuhan, central China, the illness potentially marks the seventh coronavirus known to science which can infect humans – a grouping which includes SARS and MERS.
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The head of a Chinese government expert team, Zhong Nanshan, said two people in Guangdong province in southern China caught the disease from family members, according to state-controlled English language newspaper China Daily.
The National Health Commission task force also found that some medical workers have tested positive for the virus, with 221 now confirmed to have been infected.
Mr Zhong said the two people in Guangdong had not been to Wuhan but family members had returned from the city.
Concern over the further spread of the virus has led to stringent checks at airports – with medical officials seen in hazmat suits boarding aeroplanes due to leave Wuhan to test for the illness and US airports screening travellers from the city.
Meanwhile the outbreak has continued on to more cities within China’s borders including Shanghai and Beijing.
Ahead of the announcement president Xi Jinping said that it’s “extremely crucial” to take every possible measure to combat the illness.
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“The recent outbreak of novel coronavirus pneumonia in Wuhan and other places must be taken seriously,” Mr Xi said, according to national broadcaster CCTV.
“Party committees, governments and relevant departments at all levels should put people’s lives and health first.”
They should “ensure that the masses have a quiet, peaceful and joyous Spring Festival,” he added.
Officials have so far confirmed 217 cases of the virus as of Monday morning, with state TV claiming 198 of these were in Wuhan.
However a report by London Imperial College’s MRC Centre for Global Infectious Disease Analysis estimated that as of 12 January there were likely 1,723 cases in Wuhan City with onset of related symptoms.
Chinese health authorities have not commented directly on the report.
Jeremy Farrar, a specialist in infectious disease epidemics and director of the Wellcome Trust global health charity, said: “This outbreak is extremely concerning. Uncertainty and gaps remain, but it is now clear that there is person to person transmission.
He added: “Wuhan is a major hub and with travel being a huge part of the fast approaching Chinese New Year, the concern level must remain high.