Authorities in China and beyond stepped up efforts to control an outbreak of a new flu-like coronavirus on Wednesday as the death toll rose to seventeen with 440 confirmed cases, while suspicion grew that the virus crossed to humans from animals.
China discouraged public gatherings in Hubei province, where the virus emerged last month, and tightened containment measures in hospitals, while the World Health Organization (WHO) was due to hold an emergency meeting to determine whether the outbreak constituted a global health emergency.
The virus has spread from the central Chinese city of Wuhan, in Hubei, to Beijing, Shanghai, Macau, Hong Kong, and beyond to the United States, Thailand, South Korea, Japan and Taiwan.
The Chinese government has provided updates on the number of cases in a bid to head off panic, as hundreds of millions of people prepare to travel at home and abroad for Lunar New Year celebrations starting this week.
Some 2,197 people who came into contact with infected people were being kept in isolation, while 765 have been released from observation.
Symptoms of the virus, which can cause pneumonia, include fever, coughing and difficulty breathing.
There is no vaccine for the virus, which can be passed from person to person. Fifteen medical personnel are among those infected in China.
The WHO says an animal source appears most likely to be the primary source of this outbreak.