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China virus toll rises to nine as pandemic fears grow

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Image: A health official scans the body temperature of a passenger as she a
A health official scans the body temperature of a passenger as she arrives at the Soekarno-Hatta International Airport in Tangerang, Indonesia, on Wednesday.   -  
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Tatan Syuflana
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BEIJING — The death toll from a new flu-like coronavirus in Chinarose to nine on Wednesday with 440 confirmed cases, Chinese health officials said as authorities stepped up efforts to control the outbreak by discouraging public gatherings in Hubei province.On Tuesday, a case of the disease was confirmed in a patient just north of Seattle, federal health officials said. Another 2,197 people who came into contact with infected people were isolated, with 765 so far released from observation, National Health Commission vice-minister Li Bin told reporters, adding that there was already evidence that the virus was being spread through "respiratory transmission.""Recently there has been a big change in the number of cases, which is related to our deepening our understanding of the disease, improving diagnostic methods and optimizing the distribution of diagnostic kits," Li said.As China vowed to tighten containment measures in hospitals, the World Health Organization (WHO) was due to hold an emergency meeting on Wednesday to determine whether the outbreak of the new coronavirus constitutes a global health emergency.The virus, originating in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in Hubei at the end of last year, has spread to Chinese cities including Beijing, Shanghai and Macau, as well as the United States, Thailand, South Korea, Japan and Taiwan.

A health official scans the body temperature of a passenger as she arrives at the Soekarno-Hatta International Airport in Tangerang, Indonesia, on Wednesday.
A health official scans the body temperature of a passenger as she arrives at the Soekarno-Hatta International Airport in Tangerang, Indonesia, on Wednesday.Tatan Syuflana

The Chinese government has been providing daily updates on the number of cases in a bid to head off public panic, as millions of people prepare to travel domestically and abroad for the country's Lunar New Year celebrations starting this week."At present, during the Lunar New Year, the rise in the mobility of the public has objectively increased the risk of the epidemic spreading and the difficulty of prevention and control," Li warned, noting that the mutation of the virus could also bring further risks.Terry Gou, the billionaire founder of Apple supplier Foxconn, said on Wednesday he was advising company employees not to visit China over the coming Lunar New Year holiday, amid concerns over the virus.Fears of a pandemic similar to the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak that started in China and killed nearly 800 people in 2002-2003 have roiled global markets, with aviation and luxury goods stocks hit particularly hard and the Chinese yuan tumbling.On Tuesday the death toll stood at six with about 300 confirmed cases.WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic said new cases of the coronavirus would appear as China stepped up monitoring.Li said there was as yet no evidence of "super-spreaders" capable of disseminating the virus more widely, as happened during the SARS outbreak.Fifteen medical personnel are among those infected in China. Symptoms include fever, coughing and difficulty breathing. The viral infection can cause pneumonia and be passed from person to person.Though the origin of the virus has yet to be identified, WHO said the primary source was probably animal. Chinese officials have linked the outbreak to Wuhan's seafood market.

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