China coronavirus: What to know about the deadly virus

Lockdown measures are increasing across China’s Hubei province to try to control the spread of a new virus that has left 17 people dead.

What to know about the virus

Currently known as 2019-nCoV, the virus is understood to be a new strain of coronavirus not previously identified in humans. The Sars (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) virus that killed nearly 800 people globally in the early 2000s was also a coronavirus, as is the common cold.

Authorities have said this new virus originated in a seafood market in Wuhan that “conducted illegal transactions of wild animals”. The market has been shut down since the beginning of the year.

Some researchers have suggested the illness may have originated in snakes. A study published on Wednesday in the Journal of Medical Virology said genetic analysis suggests snakes are “the most probable wildlife animal reservoir” for the virus, but this would need to be confirmed by other studies. Other researchers have questioned the claim.

There is also evidence of human-to-human transmission with the virus spreading from patients to family members and healthcare workers.

But understanding more about how the virus transmits between people is one of the major outstanding questions in this outbreak.

The virus infects the lungs, and symptoms start with a fever and cough. It can progress to shortness of breath and breathing difficulties.

Quarantine team controlling the coronavirus in China. Source: New York Times

The World Health Organization (WHO) emergency committee on Wednesday deferred a decision on declaring a “global emergency” over the new virus, but is meeting again on Thursday.

A global emergency is the highest level of alarm the WHO can sound, and has previously been used in response to swine flu, Zika virus and Ebola.

What is happening globally?

Authorities around the world have announced screening measures for passengers from China.

Thailand has confirmed four cases of the virus, the most outside China. The US, Japan, Taiwan, South Korea have all reported one case each.

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