.A mysterious respiratory virus that has killed at least three people and sickened more than 200 in China can be transmitted between humans, a Chinese government-appointed expert has said.
Now there are fears about the possibility of a deadly epidemic as millions prepare to travel for the Lunar New Year holiday.
Zhong Nanshan, head of the team set up by China's National Health Commission to investigate the pneumonia-like virus, confirmed that at least two cases had been spread from person to person and medical staff had also been infected.
Authorities had previously said that the new strain of coronavirus, which was traced by health officials to a seafood market in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, was primarily passed from animals to humans.
The spread of the outbreak comes as the country gets ready for the Lunar New Year holiday later this week. On Sunday, the World Health Organization (WHO) said that there was evidence of “limited human-to-human transmission” of the new virus raising fears of a wider regional outbreak. The holiday period typically sees hundreds of millions of Chinese travel throughout the country and overseas.
The three cases outside China have all been linked to Wuhan. On Monday, South Korea also confirmed its first case of the virus.
Almost 7 million Chinese were estimated to have traveled overseas last year during the Lunar New Year holiday season. “I believe Chinese tourists will bring the virus to many other countries in Asia in the coming days, due to their overseas travels during the Lunar New Year holiday,” Professor David Hui Shu-cheong, a respiratory expert at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, told CNN Monday.