The number of people infected with the new coronavirus in mainland China is now more than the number infected during the SARS outbreak in 2002 and 2003.
By Wednesday, the number of confirmed cases jumped to over 6,000. That is 1,500 more than on Tuesday. More than 130 deaths have been confirmed.
During the SARS outbreak, the number of confirmed cases was 5,327 in mainland China. But the number of deaths was higher, at 348.
The new coronavirus is part of a family of viruses that can cause the common cold as well as more serious illnesses, such as SARS and MERS. SARS is short for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome; MERS is short for Middle East Respiratory Syndrome.
The newly identified virus is believed to have spread to humans from wild animals sold at a market in Wuhan, a city in central China. It is now spreading between people. Both the SARS and MERS viruses also first spread from animals to people.
China’s health minister and other officials have suggested that the new virus is spreading before people even show signs of being infected. However, data to confirm that have not yet been shared widely outside of China.
Malik Peiris is head of the virology department at the University of Hong Kong. He said, “It’s still unclear whether that takes place.” But if it does, that might explain why the disease is spreading so quickly.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus is director general of the World Health Organization (WHO). He noted on Twitter that only “68 cases…have been recorded to date in 15 other countries.” He added that three other countries have confirmed cases of person-to-person transmission.
This information has led the WHO to call a new meeting of the emergency committee to consider “whether the current outbreak constitutes a public health emergency of international concern.” The meeting is set for Thursday.
Preventing the spread of virus
Chinese officials have answered the outbreak with far-reaching disease control measures. Wuhan and 16 other cities have been locked down, trapping more than 50 million people.
Foreign countries began removing their citizens from Wuhan on Wednesday. Special planes carrying American and Japanese citizens left the city, as other countries, including Australia, New Zealand and Britain, planned similar evacuations.
Airlines around the world announced they were cutting flights to China. And Hong Kong suspended rail travel to and from the mainland.
Chinese officials extended the Lunar New Year holiday to keep workers at home in an effort to contain the spread of the new coronavirus.
The outbreak has also affected international sporting events. The International Hockey Federation delayed its games in China. And qualifying events for the Tokyo Olympics in soccer, basketball and boxing have been moved outside of the country.
Effects on the economy
On Tuesday, Apple chairman Tim Cook told investors that the company has suppliers in the Wuhan area. He said the company is working on plans “to make up any expected production loss.”
Automobile makers Peugeot and Honda have also pulled employees from central China. Other companies have since restricted travel to the country.
A government economist says the crisis could cut China’s first-quarter growth by one percentage point.
But there may be some good news. Scientists in Australia say they have developed a lab-grown version of the coronavirus. This development could be a major step toward finding a vaccine.
I'm Jonathan Evans.
Hai Do adapted this story for Learning English based on Associated Press and Reuters news reports. Ashley Thompson was the editor.
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Words in This Story
outbreak - n. a sudden start or increase of disease
transmission - n. the act or process by which something is spread or passed from one person to another
constitute - v. to form something
lock down - phrasal verb - to make people stay in a place during an emergency in order to keep them safe
evacuation - n. the act or process of removing someone from a dangerous place
flight - n. trip on an airplane
qualify - v. to have the skills that are required to be allowed in a competition