China’s National Health Commission reported on Friday, January 24, that 25 people have died in connection to the ongoing novel coronavirus (2019-nCOV) outbreak as of 23:59 (local time) on Thursday, January 23. At least 830 cases have been confirmed and thousands of people remain under medical observation. Fatalities from the virus have been reported in Hubei and Hebei provinces, while cases have been confirmed in 29 provincial regions. The outbreak originated in Wuhan (Hubei province), where the majority of cases have been recorded.
In an effort to prevent further spread of the virus, authorities announced on Thursday that all Lunar New Year celebrations in Beijing would be canceled and that the city’s Palace Museum will be closed to tourists beginning Saturday, January 25. New Year festivities typically draw hundreds of thousands of people to the capital. Lunar New Year events have also been canceled in Wuhan as a precaution.
Travel restrictions are currently in place in Wuhan, Ezhou, Huanggong, Chibi, and Zhijiang (Hubei province) to curb the spread of the virus. All train and bus services were suspended in the abovementioned cities as of Thursday. In Wuhan, the airport was also closed on Thursday and police are checking all incoming vehicles; however, the roads have not been completely closed off. As of Friday morning, it is unclear how long the restrictions will remain in place.
Further spread of the illness is possible over the near term, particularly during the upcoming Lunar New Year holiday.
The first case of 2019-nCOV was reported on December 31. Authorities are still investigating the primary source of the outbreak, but the first cases were connected to people who worked at or visited a seafood market in Wuhan. Human-to-human and patient-to-medical staff transmission of the virus have also been confirmed. Many of the associated fatalities have been due to pneumonia caused by the virus.
The World Health Organization (WHO) held an emergency panel in Geneva (Switzerland) on Thursday to discuss the virus, ultimately deciding that it was too early to classify the outbreak as a "public health emergency of international concern." As of January 23, cases of the virus have been confirmed in Thailand, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, Vietnam, and the US, and suspected cases have been reported in Saudi Arabia, Mexico, and Australia. Fever screening measures are being implemented at airports throughout Asia, Europe, Latin America, Australia, the Middle East, and the US.
On Wednesday, January 22, the US CDC issued a Level 2 health alert warning individuals who are in or who recently returned from Wuhan to "practice enhanced precautions." In particular, CDC officials warned that the virus poses an increased threat to older adults with underlying health conditions.
Pneumonia symptoms include dry cough, chest pain, fever, and labored breathing. Pneumonia can be contagious and can be transmitted from human to human. The influenza virus, or the flu, is a common cause of viral pneumonia.
Individuals in China, particularly those in Hubei province, are advised to monitor the situation and anticipate additional security checks at airports. Individuals are advised to take precautionary measures to reduce their risk of contracting the virus:
- Avoid all contact with animals (dead or alive); avoid eating animal products that are undercooked; avoid all markets where animals are sold
- Avoid all close contact with people displaying symptoms of the disease (e.g. difficulties breathing)
- Frequently wash hands, wear a face mask
- Individuals within China developing symptoms of pneumonia are advised to seek medical attention, avoid contact with other people, and wash hands regularly
- Adhere to all instructions issued by the local authorities and their home governments
- Travelers returning from China and developing symptoms of pneumonia are advised to call emergency services before going to the doctor or hospital to avoid spreading the disease
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