The outbreak of a deadly coronavirus from China has entered a new phase and is now being transmitted locally in places including Hong Kong, Singapore, and Thailand, according to new confirmed cases announced yesterday.
While health officials keep a wary eye on new outbreak centers to signal the virus has gone from epidemic to pandemic, a rash of new cases involve victims who had not visited mainland China recently, such as the three latest infections in Hong Kong. Some of the newly infected in Singapore and Thailand had been in contact with Chinese travelers.
Malaysia announced the first case involving one of its citizens who had visited Singapore on a business trip. A South Korean man who came into contact with the Malaysian on the same trip was today confirmed to have infected, Yonhap reports
More local transmissions happened aboard a cruise ship in Japan where 3,700 passengers are being quarantined for two weeks after 10 tested positive for the virus.
The coronavirus has now infected more than 24,000 people and killed at least 491 in China, according to Wednesday morning’s data from that nation’s health committees.
The Health Ministry announced six more patients, aged 28 to 48, were stricken by the coronavirus yesterday, four of whom were infected locally while the other two had been recently repatriated from Wuhan. Stricter virus transmission countermeasures have been rolled out in schools and nursing homes.
Three of the locally infected patients were Singaporeans who had contact with a group of Chinese tourists at a health products shop in the Jalan Besar popular with Chinese travelers. One of the three was a tour guide who had brought a Chinese group to the shop, called Yong Thai Hang, while the other two worked at the 24 Cavan Road business. The fourth person was an Indonesian maid working for one of the three.
All cases were confirmed Monday, while the tour guide was confirmed Tuesday.
The group they came into contact with is believed to have already left Singapore. The Health Ministry did not indicate when they had arrived but believe they came from Guangxi province and counted at least two among them infected with the virus.
Current evidence suggests the virus can be spread through droplets such as perspiration or simply touching a contaminated surface, the ministry said.
Meanwhile, one patient deemed to have recovered from the virus has been discharged. The 35-year-old Chinese man from Wuhan, who tested positive Jan. 27, has left the National Centre for Infectious Diseases. Those sick with the virus have been treated there in isolation.
To minimize large school gatherings in a bid to prevent disease spread, all mass assemblies, celebrations and camps have been canceled as of today. Break times will also be staggered and temperature checks initiated at preschools.
Thailand yesterday announced six more coronavirus cases involving four Thais and two Chinese tourists as a commercial flight returned from the outbreak epicenter of Wuhan short of a few Thais.
Of the 141 Thai nationals due to be evacuated only 138 were aboard Tuesday’s AirAsia flight. Two were feverish and deemed too sick to travel while one had overstayed their visa and was not allowed to leave the country.
Six of the repatriated Thais were unwell and were said to be coughing, though it was not clear how ill they were.
Two of the six new confirmed cases were a couple who had recently returned from Japan. It was uncertain where in Japan they contracted the virus but the Thai authorities said they were in contact with their Japanese counterparts for more information.
Two other Thais infected by the virus were drivers who had transported Chinese tourists in their vehicles. One of them is a 70-year-old with underlying tuberculosis, who had driven an infected Chinese woman to a hospital in Hua Hin.
Thailand also took steps to introduce price controls on items including face masks, sanitizers and related products for a year after plans were approved by the cabinet.
The total number of cases in Thailand now stands at 25. Eight people were deemed recovered and have been discharged from the hospital.
Hong Kong announced three more confirmed cases of the coronavirus the same day a 39-year-old man had died from the disease. All three had contracted the virus locally and with no recent travel history to mainland China. Two of them were announced Tuesday afternoon and the latest case later at night.
They involved a 25-year-old man, a 64-year-old female boutique owner and a 60-year-old retire man who had visited the doctor multiple times before he was finally taken to an isolation ward after testing positive for the virus.
Authorities attributed the lax handling of the elderly man to his “quite mild” symptoms, and the fact that it is flu season in Hong Kong.
“So it’s difficult for a doctor to identify such cases in the community, and it’s also very difficult for us to test every person with fever or suspicious symptoms in the community,” Chuang Shuk-kwan from the Centre for Health Protection said at yesterday’s press briefing.
Meanwhile strikes by medical workers to push for the closure of all Hong Kong entry points with China continue.
A Malaysian has now contracted the virus after visiting Singapore recently, Health Minister Dzulkefly Ahmad announced yesterday.
The 42-year-old man was in Singapore Jan. 16 to Jan 23 on business and joined a meeting attended by Chinese nationals at the Grand Hyatt Hotel.
The man fell ill after returning to Malaysia and subsequently tested positive for the virus on Monday.
Malaysia also confirmed another case involving a 63-year-old Chinese man from Wuhan who arrived Jan. 18.
Malaysia now has 10 confirmed cases of the virus. Apart from the sole infected Malaysian, the rest were Chinese nationals.
A 4-year-old girl, Malaysia’s first confirmed case, is deemed to have recovered after tests came back negative for the virus. She is to be allowed to return home.
A group of Filipinos stranded in sequestered Chinese cities expect to return home today and enter two-week quarantine at Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija province.
The government is also cracking down on misinformation related to the outbreak and has instructed the National Bureau of Investigation to probe and file charges.
The move comes after a man was arrested Sunday for feigning collapsing in a mall and pretending to be a victim of the virus. The man later admitted that it was a prank, ABS-CBN reported.
Schools on Natuna Island, where Indonesians repatriated from Wuhan are currently under quarantine, are closed two weeks to reduce the risk of exposure.
A group of 238 Indonesians arrived from Wuhan to Batam’s Hang Nadim International Airport Sunday where they were sprayed with disinfectant during disembarkation as shown in a now-viral video. The group was then transferred to Natuna Island.
Indonesia authorities also said yesterday they would temporarily halt the import of live animals from China amid the outbreak. The foreign ministry said it was aware of the Indonesian infected in Singapore and has contacted Singaporean authorities.
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