The World Health Organization (WHO) announced on Monday that it is holding an emergency meeting to debate whether the outbreak of a new coronavirus in China should be declared an international public health emergency.
Earlier Monday, China confirmed that the newly-identified virus had been transmitted between humans, infected more than 200 people, including 14 health care workers, killed three and crossed international borders to sicken four people.
Alarm was first raised by the discovery that the cause of the new illness was a virus related to SARS, which killed nearly 800 people in worldwide in 2003.
Health officials in the US last week announced that the three major airports (JFK, San Francisco and LAX) that receive the most flights from Wuhan, China, the epicenter of the outbreak, would begin screening all passengers arriving from the region.
Now, as China gears up for the Lunar Year on Saturday, a time of increased travel and potentially for accelerated transmission of the virus, the WHO considers what, if any, guidance to issue to the international community.
President Xi Jinping said curbing the outbreak and saving
lives was a top priority as the number of patients more than tripled and a
third person died.
Adding to the difficulties of containing it, hundreds of millions of Chinese will be travelling domestically and abroad during the Lunar New Year holiday that starts this week.
Authorities around the globe, including in the United States and many Asian countries, have stepped up screening of travelers from Wuhan, the central city where the virus was first discovered.
Authorities confirmed a total of 217 new cases of the virus in China as of 6pm local time on Monday, state television reported, 198 of which were in Wuhan.
Five new cases were confirmed in Beijing and 14 more in Guangdong province, the report said. Another statement confirmed a new case in Shanghai, bringing the number of known cases worldwide to 222
The virus belongs to the same family of coronaviruses as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which killed nearly 800 people globally during a 2002/03 outbreak that also started in China.
Its symptoms include fever and difficulty in breathing, which are similar to many other respiratory diseases and pose complications for screening efforts.