A third person has died as a result of a deadly virus outbreak in China with the number of cases tripling over the weekend, according to health officials.

Fears of a major outbreak have increased after the new coronavirus strain infected another 136 people in the Chinese city of Wuhan, where it was first discovered.

Japan, Thailand and South Korea have also reported cases.

Other Chinese cities including Shanghai also confirmed their first cases, bringing the total number of people diagnosed with the virus to 218.

The coronavirus is a particular cause of concern given its connection to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which killed nearly 650 people across mainland China and Hong Kong in 2002-2003.

The outbreak of the virus comes at a time when hundreds of millions of Chinese people travel across the county to see friends and family during the annual Lunar New Year holiday, with the city of Wuhan serving as a major transport hub.

Chinese President Xi Jinping said that safeguarding people’s lives was a ‘top priority’ and that the spread of the epidemic ‘should be resolutely contained’, according to state broadcaster CCTV.

Advertisement

Advertisement

President Xi said it was necessary to ‘release information on the epidemic in a timely manner and deepen international cooperation’.

According to Shanghai’s health commission, its first case – a 56-year-old woman who was hospitalised last Wednesday – also came from Wuhan.

South Korea reported its first case today, a 35-year-old woman who flew in from Wuhan.

Thailand and Japan have previously confirmed a total of three cases – all of whom had visited the Chinese city.

No human-to-human transmission has been confirmed so far, but authorities have not ruled out the possibility.

The country’s National Health Commission believes that the current epidemic can be controlled, despite not knowing the source of the coronavirus.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said today that ‘an animal source seems the most likely primary source’ of the virus, with ‘some limited human-to-human transmission occurring between close contacts’.

Scientists with the MRC Centre for Global Infectious Disease Analysis at Imperial College in London, warned in a paper published on Friday that the number of cases in Wuhan was likely to be closer to 1,700, much higher than the official figure.

What is the Coronavirus?

The Coronavirus is part of a large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome.

It is an airborne virus, spread in a similar way to colds and the flu.

In an outbreak in 2003 of a similar virus, SARS, more than 900 people around the world were killed within weeks.

What are the symptoms?

If the virus spreads to the windpipe and lungs, it can cause pneumonia, with older people, those with heart disease and weakened immune systems most vulnerable.