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Health authorities must stay on alert: China Daily editorial | Updated: 2020-01-16 22:06
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The new coronavirus responsible for the mysterious pneumonia outbreak in Wuhan, Hubei province, has been identified and officially named. There has been no solid evidence of human-to-human transmission, and although epidemic control authorities have conceded it can't be excluded, the probability appears low.

In Wuhan, no new case of infection has been reported since Jan 3. The World Health Organization has advised against any travel or trade restrictions in connection with it.

And, as the WHO and many international observers have pointed out, Chinese authorities have demonstrated impressive transparency, responsiveness, efficiency and capability in dealing with the public health emergency, in sharp contrast with the 2002-03 SARS crisis, when the initial cover-up, poor preparedness for such an epidemic and lax management resulted in the outbreak spreading to 26 countries, infecting thousands and killing nearly 800.

But the latest two confirmed cases of infection, one in Thailand, the other in Japan, are a timely reminder that vigilance must be maintained. The patient in Thailand is a tourist from Wuhan. The one in Japan fell ill after a trip to Wuhan.

While most of the earlier infections in Wuhan reportedly had to do with a now closed seafood market which also dealt in wild animals, it is unclear how these latest two became infected.

Since, as the WHO stated, the "source, modes of transmission, extent of infection" remain unknown, it is urgent to determine how they contracted the virus. That these two cases presented themselves after the authorities in Wuhan said they had carried out exhaustive screening of possible contacts makes this especially critical. Particularly, as this most populous nation on Earth braces for the peak travel season.

For next Friday's Lunar New Year's Eve family reunions alone, hundreds of millions of people will be on the move, packing trains, planes and buses. Plus those wanting to take advantage of the precious week-long leave to unwind by traveling.

To what extent should people using the crowded public transport system in places other than Wuhan be concerned?

Although the likelihood of person-to-person transmission is deemed low, and the public transportation authorities have made preparations for medical emergencies, public health authorities must keep abreast of the state of affairs and make informed decisions.

For example, should the current precautionary measures recommended for individuals in Wuhan, such as avoiding crowded public places and using masks in such venues, be prescribed nationwide?

At present, those who develop a cough or fever after visiting Wuhan are urged to wear a surgical mask and to quickly see a doctor.

Although it will be a holiday, the health authorities must remain alert to reports of any new cases, and be prepared to take appropriate action.

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