A newly discovered coronavirus has put Asia on high alert after killing two people and left dozen of others unwell.
The disease, dubbed the Wuhan virus after the Chinese city in which it originated, has now spread outside of China.
As the Chinese lunar new year approaches, hundreds of millions of people are expected to travel across and out of the most populous country in the world. This large-scale human migration ihas sparked fears of a health crisis.
The two confirmed cases outside of China on thursday were detected in Japan, and Thailand. All patients tested positive for the virus had previously travelled to Wuhan. Singapore also has an suspected case of the virus.
As virologists rush to find the trace of this pathogen, the method of transmussion of the virus remains a mystery.
Officials in Wuhan said last weekend that 41 people had pneumonia caused by the new coronavirus and a 61-year-old man had died – China's first known death from the virus.
Most confirmed cases can be traced to Wuhan’s Huanan Seafood Market where other live animals, including birds and rabbits, are also sold, suggesting the virus may have been transmitted from animals to humans. The market has been temporarily shut down for sampling and disinfection.
According to statements issued by governments, however, all the Singapore, Japan, and Thailand cases recalled no interaction with the local fish market, sparkling fears that the virus might be able to be transmitted from human to human.
Chinese health authorities and World Health Organisation have both cautiously maintained the position that there is no obvious evidence suggesting the virus could be transmitted between humans. But last week, Wuhan's local Centre for Disease Control and Prevention said they could not exclude the possibility of human-to-human transmission.
Scientists have confirmed that this strain of coronavirus comes from the same family as severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS).
Such a similarity has inevitably brought back the traumatic experience across Asia in 2003 when SARS killed 774 people in 37 countries, including over 600 in China and Hong Kong.
Despite the two confirmed deaths, however, the symptoms are not as lethal as those associated with SARS. The man who was tested positive for the virus in Japan, for example, has now recovered and was discharged on Wednesday.
In handling this health issue, Chinese government, drastically different from how they handled the SARS crisis in 2003 when the government tried to cover up the information and severely curbed media access, has largely been transparent in its response.
Soon after confirming the first cases, state television station CCTV broadcast the news. Chinese authorities have also openly invited experts from Hong Kong and overseas to go to Wuhan to conduct research.
So far, health experts have remained cautious on suggesting a possibility of a SARS-like large-scale outbreak of the virus.