China’s mysterious respiratory virus has caused six deaths and infected a number of medical workers, a sign the outbreak has entered a new phase with the illness spreading from person to person.
Health-care workers contracting the new illness indicates that it is more easily transmitted than previously thought, bringing the outbreak to a higher risk level, reminiscent of the severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, pandemic that killed 800 people in Asia 17 years ago. China on Tuesday raised the number of confirmed cases to 291.
As hundreds of millions of Chinese prepare to travel across the country and globally for the Lunar New Year holidays, concern is mounting that China will not be able to slow the spread of the pathogen, which originally emerged in the central city of Wuhan. It has since been found in people in Japan, Thailand and South Korea. Stocks in Asia slumped with China’s currency on the news, while haven assets rose.
“The risk from this virus causing pandemonium has increased because it is spreading from different countries, and we are now seeing that it can be more easily transmitted from person to person,” said Sanjaya Senanayake, associate professor of medicine at the Australian National University. In comparison with SARS, he said, “the one good factor, I guess, at the moment seems to be the low mortality rate.”