China probes pneumonia outbreak amid SARS fears: state media

SARS killed 349 people in mainland China and another 299 in Hong Kong in 2003More

SARS killed 349 people in mainland China and another 299 in Hong Kong in 2003More

With some netizens likening the epidemic to the deadly outbreak of the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) virus that killed nearly 800 people in 2002-2003 after being covered up by Chinese authorities, the Hong Kong and Taiwan government have called for faster genetic testing after Chinese authorities said they were yet to confirm the cause of the outbreak.

A odd pneumonia-like infection that first popped up in the Chinese city of Wuhan just days ago is beginning to spread, with the total number of infected individuals climbing from 27 to at least 44.

All were being treated in isolation and 121 people who had been in close contact with them were under observation.

Twenty-seven people associated with a fresh seafood and produce market fell ill with symptoms, including fever and shortness of breath. Thus far, there have been no clear indications of human-to-human transmission of the disease, the commission said.

Three travelers from Wuhan were admitted to hospitals in Hong Kong, though two were subsequently released, the South China Morning Post reported late Thursday.

The commission said the market has been disinfected and investigations into links to the outbreak were underway. The city has hasn't received any Wuhan-related severe pneumonia cases, Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan told reporters Thursday. However, a number of those infected worked at a seafood market in the city, leading authorities to clean the area.

Several people were arrested for circulating fake news online about the viral spread of pneumonia, provincial authorities said, adding that rumours on social media alleging that there had been an outbreak of Sars are untrue and no person-to-person transmission has been found so far.

University of Hong Kong microbiologist Yuen Kwok-young acknowledged similarities between the Wuhan virus, SARS and the deadly 1997 outbreak of bird flu but said there was no need for panic.

Every day, there are four trains that run between Hong Kong and Wuhan.

The World Health Organization (WHO) criticised China for under reporting the number of SARS cases following the outbreak in 2003. Similar measures are in place in South Korea, said Park Hye-kyung, a senior official at Korea Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, which has launched an emergency center to deal with the issue.

On Jan. 2, Taiwan News reported that a 6-year-old child who arrived in Taiwan on December 31 after passing through Wuhan has developed a fever and is being closely monitored. The semi-autonomous territory reported 1,755 SARS cases between 2002 and 2003, among which 299 died, and the region's tourism and services industries suffered a heavy blow as a result of the epidemic.

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