China confirms deadly coronavirus can spread between humans
20 January 2020, 18:06 | Updated: 20 January 2020, 18:14
Chinese officials have confirmed that the coronavirus, which has now killed three people, can spread between humans.
It was previously unclear if the virus could be transmitted from person to person, however China has now confirmed that it can be.
The virus has so far struck down 222 people, mainly in China, killing three.
Scientists previously believed the main source of infection was due to animal meat in the Wuhan area of China.
However, two patients have now been confirmed in southern China, miles from the region.
Team leader Zhong Nanshan, a respiratory expert, said these two people are in Guangdong province in southern China, and caught the disease from family members, according to state-controlled English language newspaper China Daily.
Chinese President Xi Jinping said that it is "extremely crucial" to take every possible measure to combat the illness.
"The recent outbreak of novel coronavirus pneumonia in Wuhan and other places must be taken seriously," Mr Xi said, according to national broadcaster CCTV.
"Party committees, governments and relevant departments at all levels should put people's lives and health first."
He also said these groups should all "ensure that the masses have a quiet, peaceful and joyous Spring Festival."
David Heyman, Professor of Infectious Disease Epidemiology at London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, told LBC News: "This virus is a corona virus carried by bats. The animals can pass it on to humans without ever being infected themselves.”
When asked how people can protect themselves, Professor Heyman explained: “People should make sure that they are careful in handling wild animals and stay away from people who are sick.”
He continued: “This disease is very worrisome, it always is when a virus spreads internationally, as there can be outbreaks across the world.
"We don’t know yet how the disease is transmitted, but we think it spreads through close contact, like touching an infected person and then yourself. It does not currently appear to be passed on by coughing, sneezing and so on."
Professor Hayman also said that the National Health Commission in China has said outbreak is "preventable and controllable".
"They have certainly had a rapid and effective start to date, and no hospital workers have been infected yet. However, poor infection control will amplify the transition," he commented.
He explained that increased travel for Chinese Lunar New Year holiday celebrations could be a problem.
The disease has arrived just as China prepares for its busiest travel period, as millions board trains and planes for the Lunar New Year holidays.
"Hopefully this won't lead to the disease spreading, but it is very hard to stop people travelling at holiday time," he commented.
On Monday it was confirmed a British tourist is among the 222 feared to have been infected by the virus.
Ashley Shorley, 32, from Thornton, West Yorkshire, contracted the disease after just one week of travelling in Thailand, and his condition quickly deteriorated.
He had pneumonia and two collapsed lungs and was sent by air ambulance from Phuket to another hospital in Bangkok on January 6.
The majority of cases have been reported in China, however there have also been cases in Japan, Thailand and South Korea.
Professor Zhong Nanshan also said: "Currently, it can be said it is affirmative that there is the phenomenon of human-to-human transmission."
The Chinese government is keen to avoid a repeat of SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, another coronavirus that started in southern China in late 2002 and spread to more than two dozen countries, killing nearly 800 people.