New SARS-related virus linked to Wuhan outbreak

Top News | Jane Cheung, Mary Ann Benitez 10 Jan 2020

A novel coronavirus from the same family as the deadly SARS virus has been identified as the cause of the pneumonia outbreak in Wuhan, which has sickened 59 in Hubei's capital city.

Hong Kong has 48 suspected cases in isolation.

Experts say mainland health authorities should now determine how another coronavirus emerged from a Wuhan seafood market that sells game meat last December. SARS emerged from civet cats sold with other animals in Guangzhou markets in 2002.

Ho Pak-leung, director of the Centre for Infection of the University of Hong Kong, said SARS and MERS appeared due to genetic changes in animals.

"The virus was discovered in Huanan Seafood wholesale market first," he said. "I believe it was passed from wild animals sold in the wet market to humans during the course of slaughtering and through their excretion.

"It's key to find out what kind of wild animals have been sold at the wet market and figure out the supply chain of these animals across all cities and provinces to block the virus from the source and prevent it from spreading further in the community," he said.

Mainland medics conducted genetic sequencing of the novel coronavirus from a patient's samples and also said the same novel coronavirus - which has yet to be named - matched with 15 Wuhan patients.

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses with some causing less-severe disease, such as the common cold, and others more severe disease such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), according to the World Health Organization, which also announced the China findings yesterday.

Wong Ka-hing, controller of the Centre for Health Protection, said the SAR government has reached out to the mainland and asked for the genetic sequence to help develop quick tests for the coronavirus.

Microbiologist Yuen Kwok-yung from the University of Hong Kong said: "Once we get the complete genetic sequence, we can develop speed tests in two to three days, which will help doctors identify the virus in two to three hours."

Ten more suspected cases relating to the Wuhan disease have been found in Hong Kong, taking the total to 48.

They include an 11-month-old baby girl, two baby boys, aged one and two, and seven others aged six to 66.

All of them except the baby girl have been cleared of the new viral infection.

Dr Gauden Galea, WHO representative to China, said yesterday that coronaviruses are a large family with some causing less-severe disease, such as the common cold, and others more severe disease such as MERS and SARS.

"Some transmit easily from person to person, while others do not. According to Chinese authorities, the virus in question can cause severe illness in some patients and does not transmit readily between people," he said.

The WHO said the preliminary determination of a new virus will assist authorities in other countries to conduct disease detection and response.

Over the past week, people with symptoms of pneumonia and reported travel history to Wuhan have been identified at international airports.

Yuen said citizens need not worry because protease inhibitors which have been commonly used as a medication against SARS are effective in combating coronavirus and likely to be a suitable

option to treat the Wuhan infection.

China Central Television said yesterday the virus matched with the samples of 15 Wuhan patients who were diagnosed with the disease.

Respiratory expert David Hui Shu-cheong from the Chinese University of Hong Kong believed the new coronavirus is not as deadly as MERS or SARS, as no one has died from the infection.

"Most of the patients are in stable condition while some are already discharged," he said.

Meanwhile, Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Patrick Nip Tak-kuen went to Guangzhou yesterday on a business trip and inspected health control at the West Kowloon station before he took the Express Rail.

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