China virus cases up sharply as infection spreads

China has reported 139 new cases of a mysterious virus in two days, with the outbreak spreading from Wuhan to other major Chinese cities.

Beijing, the capital, reported two cases, while the southern tech hub of Shenzhen reported one case.

The total number of confirmed cases now exceeds 200, and three have died from the respiratory illness.

The sharp uptick in those infected comes as millions of Chinese prepare to travel for the Lunar New Year holidays.

Health officials have identified the infection, which first appeared in Wuhan in December, as being a strain of coronavirus. They say it led to an outbreak of viral pneumonia, but much about it remains unknown.

Although the outbreak is believed to have originated from a market, officials and scientists are yet to determine exactly how it has been spreading.

South Korea reported its first confirmed case of the virus on Monday, following two in Thailand and one in Japan.

The outbreak has revived memories of the Sars virus – also a coronavirus – that killed 774 people in the early 2000s across dozens of countries, mostly in Asia.

Analysis of the genetic code of the new virus shows it is more closely related to Sars than any other human coronavirus.

Authorities in Wuhan, a central Chinese city of 11 million that has been at the heart of the outbreak, said 136 new cases had been confirmed over the weekend, with a third person dying of the virus.

There had previously been only 62 confirmed cases in the city.

As of late Sunday, officials said 170 people in Wuhan were still being treated in hospital, including nine in critical condition.

Health officials in Beijing’s Daxing district meanwhile said two people who had travelled to Wuhan were treated for pneumonia linked to the virus.

In Shenzhen, close to Hong Kong, officials said a 66-year-old man showed symptoms of the virus following a trip to visit relatives in Wuhan. Eight others in Shenzhen have been quarantined and are under observation to determine if they have the virus.

Four cases have been confirmed abroad – all of them involving people from Wuhan or who had visited the city.

In South Korea, the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said a 35-year-old Chinese woman was suffering from a fever and respiratory problems after travelling there from Wuhan. She was put into isolation and treated at a local hospital.

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