Anxiety rises as China seeks to control coronavirus outbreak

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Face masks sold out and officials at airports and train stations checked passengers for fevers as China sought to control the outbreak of a new virus.

Anxiety grew both at home and abroad after Chinese government expert Zhong Nanshan confirmed fears on state television late on Monday that the new type of coronavirus can spread from human to human.

Six people have died and 291 have been infected in China, the National Health Commission said on Tuesday.

The stock prices of some companies that sell masks rose on Tuesday, but markets fell in much of Asia as investors worried about the potential impact on tourism and the economy.

Concerned about a global outbreak similar to Sars, another coronavirus that spread from China to more than a dozen countries in 2002-2003, numerous nations have adopted screening measures for travellers from China, especially those arriving from Wuhan, the central city where the virus appears to have originated.

Guards at Wuhan’s airport pointed electronic thermometers at travellers.

Face masks sold out after it was announced the new type of coronavirus can spread from human to human

Several online retailers were sold out of masks, which were being sold for more than 10 times their original price.

Users of the popular Weibo social media platform urged others to wash their hands and stay home.

Outside the Wuhan Medical Treatment Centre, where many of the coronavirus patients are receiving care, several workers were dressed in full-body biohazard suits, supplemented by goggles, masks and plastic wrapped around their shoes.

While many wore masks in Wuhan, streets were far from deserted and people appeared to be carrying on with their regular activities.

“I’m not that worried,” said Helen Cao, a Wuhan resident who was shopping on an avenue lined with stores and full of pedestrians.

Users of the popular Weibo social media platform urged others to wash their hands and stay home.

Outside the Wuhan Medical Treatment Centre, where many of the coronavirus patients are receiving care, several workers were dressed in full-body biohazard suits, supplemented by goggles, masks and plastic wrapped around their shoes.

While many wore masks in Wuhan, streets were far from deserted and people appeared to be carrying on with their regular activities.

“I’m not that worried,” said Helen Cao, a Wuhan resident who was shopping on an avenue lined with stores and full of pedestrians.

Travellers wearing face masks wait for their flight at Hong Kong International Airport

Like many in the city, she began wearing a mask after hearing Mr Zhong’s assessment of human-to-human transmission.

“Maybe people from other places are more concerned about our health, but (Wuhan) locals actually are continuing to eat, go out and take strolls, go clubbing at night,” Ms Cao said. “Everything’s very normal, everyone’s just wearing masks, nothing more.”

Initial symptoms of the new coronavirus include fever, cough, tightness of the chest and shortness of breath.

The first cases late last month were connected to a seafood market, and transmission was thought to be occurring from animals to humans. Authorities previously had not confirmed human-to-human transmission.

In addition to 258 cases in Wuhan, more than 20 have been diagnosed in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangdong province in the south and Zhejiang in the east.

Four cases have been confirmed overseas among Chinese travellers in South Korea, Japan and Thailand.

Unless it’s necessary, people outside should not come to Wuhan, and citizens of Wuhan should not leave the city

A Taiwanese businesswoman who just returned from Wuhan tested positive for the virus, Taiwan’s Centres for Disease Control reported on Tuesday.

Fifteen medical workers have also tested positive for the virus, the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission said.

Two cases in Guangdong were people who had not visited Wuhan but fell ill after family members returned from there.

Mr Zhong cited those as evidence the disease had spread between humans.

Australia, Japan, South Korea and the US were among the countries increasing airport screenings.

The coronavirus family includes those that cause the common cold, but some found in bats, camels and other animals have evolved into more severe illnesses like Sars, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, and Mers, Middle East respiratory syndrome.

The possibility the virus can be transmitted between people increases the chances it could spread faster and more widely.

An airport staff member uses a temperature gun to check people leaving Wuhan Tianhe International Airport

The Chinese government has estimated people will make around three billion trips during the Lunar New Year travel season, but some social media users have said they may stay home due to concern about the virus.

In his first public remarks on the illness, Chinese president Xi Jinping instructed government departments to promptly release information on the virus and deepen international cooperation.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang pledged rigorous measures to tackle the virus.

“We will resolutely contain the spread of the epidemic,” Mr Geng said.

Surgical masks were mandatory on Tuesday at Beijing United Family Hospital, where all visitors had their temperatures taken at the entrance.

At one pharmacy in Shanghai, a shopkeeper named Liu Zhuzhen said more than 100 people had bought masks by midday. They were already sold out despite having recently been restocked.

State broadcaster CCTV quoted Wuhan mayor Zhou Xianwang urging limitations on travel.

“Unless it’s necessary, people outside should not come to Wuhan, and citizens of Wuhan should not leave the city,” Mr Zhou said.

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