Chinese health officials on Monday confirmed about 140 new cases of a mysterious pneumonia-like virus, which has so far killed three people.
It occurs when the country's high holiday travel season begins before the Lunar New Year, raising concerns about the spread of the viral strain and its possible impact on economic growth.
"It is very likely that we will see this virus spread, as there appears to be some form of human-to-human transmission and given the scale of travel leading up to the Chinese New Year," said Alexandra Phelan, a research instructor at the college in the department of microbiology and immunology at Georgetown University.
"Looking ahead, I think there are likely to be cases in China and there will also be cases in other countries as people travel," Phelan told CNBC on Monday.
While the SARS virus first appeared in the central city of Wuhan in late December, the 139 new cases that appeared over the weekend in China showed new cases in the northern Beijing capital, as well as in the southern city. . Shenzhen, Reuters reported. This brings the total to more than 200 confirmed cases of the new coronavirus strain. Three of them died.
Impact on travelers
Hundreds of millions of Chinese travelers are expected to travel both domestically and internationally, as the Lunar New Year begins this Saturday, sparking fears of a further spread of the virus and sparking memories of the fatal SARS pandemic in 2002 and 2003 that killed nearly 800 all around the world.
The SARS pandemic – also caused by a coronavirus – cost the global economy tens of billions of dollars.
On Monday, South Korea confirmed its first case of the new coronavirus in a Chinese woman who flew from Wuhan to Incheon International Airport.
Two cases have also been reported in Thailand and one in Japan. They involved two Chinese from Wuhan and a resident in Japan who had a history of travel to the city – where the virus is linked to a large seafood and animal market, suggesting that the virus jumped from animals to humans, said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on your website.
However, some of the patients have had no exposure to the animal market, "suggesting that there is limited spread from person to person," the CDC said on Friday.
Airport authorities around the world have already stepped up health screening of travelers across their borders to identify suspected cases. Measures include temperature screening.
However, because the symptoms of the new Wuhan coronavirus infection are similar to those of other respiratory illnesses, there will be "many" travelers who would be mistakenly caught on the side, Phelan said.
"They can be a useful opportunity to provide people with information if they feel sick … but for the most part, border screening is actually a very expensive, not particularly effective way of actually preventing the spread of the disease," he said. Phelan.
Impact on China's economy
While the nature and severity of the new coronavirus are still under investigation, it could pose a major risk to the economies of Asia-Pacific, experts said.
"Human-to-human transmission will be (the) tipping point, and mass movements in China during CNY (Chinese New Year) can be an undesirable accelerator," said Vishnu Varathan, Asia's head of economics and strategy at Mizuho. Bank.
The SARS crisis in 2003 created a serious negative impact on GDP growth for the Chinese economy and also affected the economies of several countries in Southeast Asia.
Chief Asia-Pacific Economist at IHS Markit
In particular, the "fear factor" caused by the uncertainties that accompany the new coronavirus can reduce economic activity quickly and "hijack signs of a downturn / recovery in economic activity," Varathan said in an email to CNBC.
On Monday, shares of Chinese pharmacists and mask makers increased amid growing concerns about the outbreak.
Recent data from China has suggested that some of the bases of the country's economy have been hit due to its bitter trade war with the United States.
"The SARS crisis in 2003 created a serious negative impact on GDP growth for the Chinese economy and also affected the economies of several Southeast Asian countries, including Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam," said Rajiv Biswas, chief economist at IHS Markit in Asia Pacific. There may also be a ripple effect elsewhere, he added.
"Since the SARS crisis in 2003, China's international tourism has grown, so the risks of a global SARS-like virus epidemic spreading globally have become even more serious," said Biswas.
Sectors that are particularly vulnerable include retail, food and beverages, conferences, special events – like the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo – and aviation, said Biswas.
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