Japan has confirmed the first case of a newly identified virus behind a pneumonia outbreak that has hospitalised more than 40 people in China and a tourist in Thailand.
According to Japan’s health ministry, the Sars-like coronavirus was identified in a resident of Kanagawa prefecture, south of Tokyo, who returned from a trip to the Chinese city of Wuhan on January 6.
The man aged in his thirties, who was hospitalised on January 10 and discharged on Wednesday, had not visited the wholesale seafood market in Wuhan, which has been identified as the centre of the outbreak that has so far affected more than 40 people.
Japanese officials said there was a possibility that the man, whose nationality was not disclosed, stayed with a pneumonia patient while he was in Wuhan. They are investigating who else he has had close contact with since he returned to Japan.
The widening of the outbreak comes ahead of the lunar new year holidays in late January when millions of Chinese will be travelling worldwide to visit families and friends. Japan is a popular destination for Chinese tourists, but officials called for calm, saying the risk was “extremely low” for the virus to spread from human-to-human under “normal circumstances”.
Any cases of human-to-human transmission would raise concerns over the potential spread of the virus.
Just 41 cases of the so-called novel coronavirus (nCoV) have been confirmed in China, of which seven are severely ill. A further six have been discharged from hospital. One patient, a 61-year-old man, died of heart failure after contracting the virus but no new infections have been found since January 8.
A Chinese traveller from Wuhan to Thailand was also infected with the virus but is now recovering.
The World Health Organization has said the virus “does not transmit readily between people”, which makes the Wuhan outbreak different from the 2003 Sars epidemic. Sars spread from patients to medical staff and eventually killed more than 800 people, mostly in China.
Eiji Hinoshita, an official at Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, said he could not rule out the possibility of limited human-to-human transmission if a person came into close contact with an infected patient, as in the case of family members living together in the same house.
“But the risk [of a transmission] is extremely low for people under normal living conditions. There is no need to be excessively concerned,” Mr Hinoshita said at a news conference on Thursday.
Separately two Chinese visitors from Wuhan have been put in isolation by Vietnam’s Ministry of Health and are under observation for the new coronavirus after landing at Danang International Airport on Tuesday.