The death toll from a mysterious flu-like virus in China climbed to six on Tuesday as new cases surged beyond 300 and authorities fretted about the added risk from millions of Chinese traveling for the Lunar New Year holiday.
Round the world, airports tightened screening of travelers from China as officials confirmed the coronavirus strain is contagious between humans. The World Health Organization (WHO) called a meeting for Wednesday to consider declaring a global health emergency.
The outbreak, which began in the central city of Wuhan, also sent shivers through financial markets as investors recalled the fallout from China’s Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak in 2002/2003 that it initially covered up.
The SARS corona virus killed nearly 800 people then.
Authorities have confirmed more than 300 cases in China, mostly in Wuhan, a provincial capital and transportation hub, where the virus may have originated at a seafood market.
There have been six deaths in that city, Mayor Zhou Xianwang told Chinese state television on Tuesday.
The virus has been spreading around other parts of China, however, including five cases in the national capital Beijing. Fifteen medical personnel are among those infected.
China’s onshore yuan fell 0.6%, its biggest daily drop since Aug. 26, 2019, while airline and travel stocks fell across the region. European shares also slipped on concerns about the impact of the outbreak, with luxury goods firms particularly hard-hit on worries about weaker demand from Chinese consumers.
Though the origin of the virus was yet to be identified, WHO said the primary source was probably animal. Chinese officials have linked the outbreak to Wuhan’s seafood market.
The virus can cause pneumonia, with symptoms including fever and difficulty in breathing. As those symptoms are similar to many other respiratory diseases, extra screening is needed.