Chinese officials have said a new coronavirus virus can spread from person to person, as the disease claimed a sixth life. The World Health Organization called an emergency meeting to discuss the crisis.
Six people have died from pneumonia in the central Chinese city of Wuhan following the outbreak of a new coronavirus, authorities have confirmed, as the death toll continues to rise.
China's National Health Commission on Tuesday said the number of confirmed cases had risen to 291 since the outbreak began in December.
A statement by the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission said that 15 medical workers had been diagnosed with pneumonia, with one in critical condition.
Since first being identified in Wuhan, the provincial capital of Hubei province, the disease has now spread to Beijing, Shanghai and Guandong province. Cases have also been reported outside China, in South Korea, Thailand and Japan.
The outbreak coincides with the biggest travel time in China, with hundreds of thousands expected to travel for the Lunar New Year celebrations set to begin later this week.
Meanwhile, the United States also declared its first case of coronavirus. A spokesman from the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention said that the patient, a traveler from China, was diagnosed with the virus on Tuesday in Seattle. At least 300 people have been infected globally.
Australia begins to screen flights
As the disease spreads beyond China, the World Health Organization (WHO) has called an emergency meeting to discuss the crisis.
WHO head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus wrote on Twitter that the meeting was being called to determine whether the new virus "constitutes a public health emergency of international concern," and to decide on "what recommendations should be made to manage the outbreak."
In response, Australia announced Tuesday that it would begin screening passengers on flights from Wuhan in an effort to stop the virus from spreading.
Australian Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy confirmed that new screening measures would only offer "limited protection."
"You cannot absolutely prevent the spread of disease into the country. The incubation period is probably a week," Murphy told reporters in Canberra. "It's about identifying those with a high risk and making sure those who have a high risk know about it and know how to get medical attention."
More tourists visit Australia from China than from any other country, with more than 1 million people arriving in 2019.
kmm,ed/cmk (Reuters, AFP)