GENEVA - The World Health Organization says the new coronavirus is likely to spread in China and other countries and is urging governments to implement preventive infection control measures in health facilities. The WHO confirms 278 cases of the disease, including six deaths, two in China and the other four in Thailand, Japan and South Korea.
The WHO calls the coronavirus a fast-moving disease and says the number of cases and deaths is changing quickly. The agency is stepping up measures to get to the source of the infection as quickly as possible and to provide the public with information it needs to protect itself.
The WHO will be convening an emergency committee meeting Wednesday to see whether the virus constitutes a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. A team of experts is in the city of Wuhan, China where the outbreak occurred. The experts are working with local health officials to investigate the source of the disease.
WHO spokesman Tarek Jasarevic says not much is known about the new coronavirus. He says how the disease is transmitted, its severity, the extent to which it has spread or its source are unclear.
"Based on current information, an animal source seems the most likely primary source of this outbreak, with limited human to human transmission occurring between close contacts," he said. "Based on previous experience with respiratory illnesses, in particular with other coronavirus outbreaks and our analysis of data shared by China, human to human transmission is occurring.”
Jasarevic says human-to-human transmission appears to be limited and it occurs between people who are in close contact with each other. He says the coronavirus infection can cause mild to severe symptoms and can be fatal. But reports of some new cases, he says, have tended to be mild.
The coronavirus was discovered at the end of last year in a fish market in Wuhan. The World Health Organization says it is spreading widely and more cases should be expected in other parts of China and possibly in other countries in the coming days.
Fears are growing that the mysterious virus could sicken a great many people during the upcoming lunar holiday, a time when millions of people in China travel within the country and abroad to be with their families.
A number of airports around the world are screening travelers for the infection. The World Health Organization says that is one of the measures countries can use to identify possible carriers of the disease. However, it says the current known risks do not justify restrictions on travel or trade.