Chinese public health officials have announced a sharp rise in diagnoses of an emergent strain of coronavirus. They have also confirmed two cases of human-to-human transmission of the virus.
Public health authorities announced that the total number of diagnoses of a deadly strain of coronavirus had reached 217 in China, with four diagnoses outside of the country.
Officials in the central Chinese city of Wuhan confirmed 198 cases on Monday, while five new cases were announced in Beijing, 14 in Guangdong province and one more in Shanghai.
At least three people have died due to complications stemming from infection.
China's National Health Commission has also confirmed that the virus can be spread by human-to-human contact, and reported that two people in the southern Guangdong province caught the virus from family members, according to state media outlet Xinhua. Human-to-human transmission could make the virus spread more rapidly than it would if spread by other means.
The World Health Organization (WHO) called an emergency meeting to discuss the rapid spread of the virus, after the human-to-human transmission was confirmed. The WHO panel is set to meet in Geneva on Wednesday to determine whether to declare the outbreak an international public health emergency.
"People's lives and health should be given top priority and the spread of the outbreak should be resolutely curbed," state television quoted Chinese President Xi Jinping as saying.
Chinese authorities have sought to contain the outbreak after Japan and Thailand reported cases. South Korea also confirmed its first case on Monday. The patient, the fourth case to be reported outside of China, is a 35-year-old Chinese national who had travelled from Wuhan.
In the US, airports in San Francisco, New York and Los Angeles have taken additional measures to prevent the outbreak from spreading, including temperature screenings.
Beijing is hoping to avert a repeat of a SARS outbreak that killed more than 700 people and infected more than 8,000.
DW's Fabian Kretschmer in Beijing said authorities were urging people not to talk to the media or spread news about the virus online. "That only enhances paranoia that people aren't being informed properly," he said.
The WHO has identified the virus as a new coronavirus strain.
Coronaviruses are generally spread through human-to-human interactions, including coughing, sneezing or touching an infected person.
The WHO said on Sunday that "an animal source seems the most likely primary source of this novel coronavirus outbreak, with some limited human-to-human transmission occurring between close contacts."
The UN global health body recommends avoiding unprotected contact with wild or farm animals and regularly cleaning hands with soap and water.
lc/ls/ng (AFP, Reuters, dpa)