BEIJING — Chinese officials have confirmed that 17 more people are suffering from a deadly new respiratory illness, stoking fears of a wider outbreak ahead of a busy travel season as the country celebrates the Lunar New Year.
Three of the people infected with the new coronavirus strain were seriously ill, according to health officials in Wuhan, the capital of China’s central Hubei province, where all 62 of the cases in China have occurred.
The patients showed symptoms that included fever and a cough before Jan. 13, the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission said in a statement. They added that they would continue to look for suspected cases and conduct sampling tests.
Two people have died and the total number of patients infected by the virus in China, all of them in Wuhan, has now climbed to 62, Reuters reported.
Two cases have also been reported in Thailand and one in Japan.
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In its first statement from the body since the outbreak was reported in late December, China’s National Health Commission said Sunday that the outbreak of a new strain was controllable.
The transmission path of the new virus hasn’t been mapped completely and the source of the virus is unknown, it said, adding that it will step up monitoring during Lunar new year, when millions of people travel inside and outside of China for the holiday, prompting concerns among health authorities around the world.
The new virus belongs to the large family of coronaviruses that can cause illnesses ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which killed nearly 800 people globally during a 2002-2003 outbreak that also started in China.
However, the World Health Organization (WHO) said the virus is a new strain that has not been previously identified in humans.
In the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, Georgia said in a statement Friday that most of the patients infected with the virus in China have had exposure to a large market, where live animals were present, suggesting this is a novel virus that has jumped the species barrier to infect people.
Chinese authorities reported no sustained spread of the virus in the community, CDC’s statement said, although there are indications that some limited person-to-person spread may have occurred.
The CDC also recommended that travelers to Wuhan should avoid animals, dead or alive, as well as animal markets and contact with sick people.
The United States said on Friday that it would begin screening for ill travelers entering the country on direct or connecting flights from Wuhan at three U.S. airports — John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, as well as San Francisco International Airport and Los Angeles International Airport.
Based on current information, CDC said it had determined that the new virus presents a low risk to the American public, but they are taking proactive preparedness precautions.
Eric Baculinao reported from Beijing, Yuliya Talmazan from London.
Reuters and Andrew Blankstein contributed.