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Coronavirus

Japan bolsters virus screening for Spring Festival travel rush

Patient in Thailand did not visit market in question, WHO says

New Chitose Airport in Hokkaido: Japan's gateways are checking the health status of passengers who have visited Wuhan, China recently. (Photo courtesy of Hokkaido) 

TOKYO/DALIAN, China -- The Japanese government is stepping up screening at ports of entry following the outbreak of a new coronavirus in China as it expects a surge in visitors for the Chinese Lunar New Year holiday this month.

While no new cases have been reported in Wuhan, the epicenter of the infection, since Jan. 3, a 61-year-old woman from the eastern Chinese city who became sick in Thailand has tested positive for the virus. The patient apparently was a regular customer at a local fresh market but she did not visit the Huanan South China Seafood Market from where most of the cases were detected, which has raised alarm at the World Health Organization.

"As the traveler did not report having visited the market linked to most of the other cases, it is vital that investigations continue to identify the source of infection," the WHO said Tuesday. "It is critical to review all available information to fully understand the potential transmissibility among humans."

According to the city of Wuhan, the first patient came down with mysterious pneumonia on Dec. 12., and a new type of coronavirus was later confirmed. As of Sunday, 41 cases had been reported, with one dead, six in serious condition and seven recovered and discharged from the hospital.

Most patients were linked to the seafood market, which has been shut down since Jan. 1. No human-to-human infection has been reported.

Wuhan's Huanan South China Seafood Market from where most of the cases were detected: The patient in Thailand had not visited the site, raising the possibility of a wider spread of the coronavirus.    © Kyodo

"The possibility of cases being identified in other countries was not unexpected, and reinforces why WHO calls for ongoing active monitoring and preparedness in other countries," the Geneva-based WHO said Monday, after the Wuhan traveler in Thailand was found to have the coronavirus.

China entered a 40-day Lunar New Year holiday season on Friday, during which 3 billion trips are expected to be made, as its citizens travel back to their hometowns or go on trips abroad. Ctrip.com, China's largest online travel operator, says the most popular overseas destination is Japan, followed by Thailand.

Japan's Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, which conducts thermography tests on all inbound travelers to measure their temperatures, began displaying posters at quarantine booths across Japan last week, calling on people to come forward if they become sick after visiting Wuhan.

After China shared the genetic sequence of the novel coronavirus on Sunday, Japan's National Institute of Infectious Diseases readied specific diagnostic kits.

The health ministry has called on hospitals to report swiftly if patients who have been in Wuhan have symptoms of pneumonia.

In Hong Kong, the city government announced Tuesday that 71 patients, who had been to Wuhan and presented symptoms of fever, respiratory infection or pneumonia, have been admitted in hospitals, and that 60 have been discharged.

None have been confirmed as having the novel coronavirus. Hong Kong has dispatched a team of experts to Wuhan to gain a firsthand understanding of the situation.

According to Taiwan Centers for Disease Control, direct flights between Wuhan and Taiwan have been subject to in-plane quarantine since Dec. 31. As of Monday, 22 flights and 2,342 passengers have been checked, with 11 cases of fever but no confirmation of coronavirus.

In South Korea, a Chinese woman had suspicious symptoms after visiting Wuhan and was admitted to hospital, but the health authorities concluded that it was not coronavirus-related on Saturday.

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