No evidence of human link to virus spread

Top News | Jane Cheung & Mary Ann Benitez 15 Jan 2020

There has been no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission of the Wuhan coronavirus, the World Health Organization says, but its director-general will consult with an emergency committee on the new emerging infection after Thailand confirmed its first imported case.

The WHO tweeted last night that "preliminary investigations conducted by Chinese authorities have found no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission of the novel coronavirus."

But the WHO said its director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus could call for a meeting on short notice with emergency committee members.

This signals the urgency of the Wuhan virus, given that an emergency committee has been meeting for the ongoing Ebola virus epidemic at the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

A WHO spokesman, Tarik Jasarevic, last night said there has been no evidence of limited human-to-human transmission, debunking a Reuters report.

"But the mode of transmission has not yet been determined and human-to-human transmission is always a concern when patients have respiratory symptoms," he said.

"This requires further investigation."

The WHO earlier confirmed that a Chinese woman, who arrived in Bangkok on a flight from Wuhan last Wednesday, had been infected with the coronavirus suspected to have originated from the city's Huanan seafood wholesale market.

The 61-year-old woman was the first case to be detected outside China. She said she had never been to the Huanan market but had visited other wet markets in Wuhan.

Thai health officials said the visitor is recovering at the Bamrasnaradura Infectious Diseases Institute in Nonthaburi province and no longer has a fever or respiratory symptoms, meaning she will be allowed to go home in a few days.

A local expert yesterday also expressed concern that the virus might have spread to other wet markets in Hubei's capital city.

Local respiratory expert David Hui Shu-cheong from Chinese University said the case in Thailand could suggest an alternative source of the virus.

"It worries me whether the virus has already spread to game animals in other wet markets," he said. "Mainland authorities should extend the area of the probe. They should trace the game meat sold in Wuhan markets in order to block the virus at the source."

Hui said none of the 763 close contacts of patients in Wuhan were found to be sick, showing that the virus cannot effectively spread between humans.

Also, the 16 people who sat close to the woman on the flight to Thailand tested negative for the virus.

A team led by undersecretary for food and health Chui Tak-yi returned from Wuhan last night and will join Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan Siu-chee and local experts in a government meeting this morning.

They will announce the latest updates on the coronavirus following the meeting, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said.

The delegation joined peers from Macau and Taiwan on Monday in a two-day visit arranged by the National Health Commission to learn how Wuhan is combating the disease.

Lam said the Hong Kong government has received genome sequencing information from the mainland, potentially allowing local experts to develop a rapid test to diagnose the coronavirus.

"So far, Hong Kong has not seen an acute pneumonia case associated with Wuhan. In other words, we have 'zero cases.' The number announced by the government every day is for reported cases," she said.

This came as three more patients - a 16-year-old boy, a 34-year-old man and a 21-year-old woman - were quarantined at hospitals as they suffered fever and respiratory infection symptoms following trips to Wuhan in the past two weeks.

The three took the total number of suspected cases to 71.

The Wuhan Municipal Health Commission said at least 41 people are currently infected with the virus.

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