Early on Tuesday officials confirmed a fourth death linked to the virus with more than 200 cases of the disease confirmed so far and instances reported in Japan, Thailand and South Korea.
The 89-year-old man, who had some underlying health problems, developed symptoms on 13 January and was admitted to hospital on 18 January. He died the following day, the Wuhan municipal health commission said.
Believed to have originated in a seafood market in Wuhan, central China, the illness potentially marks the seventh coronavirus known to science that can infect humans – a grouping that includes SARS and MERS.
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 one reportedly in a critical condition.
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 arriving 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.
“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 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. There is more to come from this outbreak.”
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