New coronavirus from SARS family may be cause of mysterious pneumonia cases in China: WHO

WION Web Team Wuhan, Hubei, China Jan 09, 2020, 08.41 AM(IST)

Chinese policemen wear full protective clothing as they man a checkpoint in Wuhan. Photograph:( AFP )

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The international health organization said although the virus does not spread readily, however, it can cause severe illness.

The World Health Organization said on Wednesday that it believes a new strain of virus from the SARS family has struck China's Wuhan which has led to at least 59 people being infected.

“Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that range from the common cold to SARS. Some cause less-severe disease, some more severe. Some transmit easily from person to person, while others don’t,” WHO said in a statement.

Also Read: China probes mystery pneumonia outbreak amid SARS fears

"The initial information about the cases of pneumonia in Wuhan...pointed to a coronavirus as a possible pathogen causing this cluster," the WHO added.

The international health organization said although the virus does not spread readily, however, it can cause severe illness.

The infection which was first confirmed on December 31 in Wuhan had led to widespread SARS scare which had infected people in China and Hong Kong in 2002-2003 leading to the death of hundreds of people.

China's state media CCTV said Chinese experts believe the mysterious pneumonia was in fact a new strain of virus from the family of pathogens that includes SARS.

"As of January 7, 2020, the laboratory detected a new type of coronavirus," CCTV said, adding, "The new coronavirus that caused this epidemic situation is different from previously discovered human coronaviruses, and further understanding of the virus requires more scientific research."

The Wuhan Municipal Health Commission had earlier said 59 cases of the unknown viral pneumonia were reported but denied it was the deadly SARS virus. No deaths were reported. 

As a precaution, Wuhan health officials conducted cleanup operations at a seafood market in the city suspecting it to be connected to the virus. 

The health scare spread beyond China's border as Singapore's health ministry said it would be screeing passengers arriving on flights from Wuhan.

As reports of the mystery virus grew, the US embassy in China warned its citizens to avoid animals and contact with sick people.