China on Tuesday confirmed more than 300 patients infected with the new coronavirus so far, up by about 90 from the previous day, sparking concern that the number may spike as many are set to make a trip during the Lunar New Year holidays.
Health authorities have received over 310 confirmed cases of the new coronavirus in cities and provinces in the country, including Beijing and Shanghai, with Wuhan Mayor Zhou Xianwang telling official TV that six patients have now been killed by the virus.
Taiwan also confirmed its first case of the new coronavirus Tuesday evening in a 55-year-old Taiwanese woman who had returned the night before from Wuhan, located around 1,000 kilometers south of Beijing.
The woman told health authorities that she did not visit a seafood market where some analysts say the virus originated, nor did she have contact with wild animals or birds while in the city, a specialist of the Taiwan Centers for Disease Control said.
The World Health Organization's Regional Office for the Western Pacific said in a Twitter post on Tuesday that information about the newly reported infections suggests "there may now be sustained human-to-human transmission."
Given that millions of Chinese citizens are expected to travel at home and abroad on the occasion of the New Year holidays, which start later this week, it is feared the infection may spread further.
Late Monday night, an expert team from China's National Health Commission said the virus has been transmitted person to person, the nation's official Xinhua News Agency reported.
(Supplied photo shows Zhong Nanshan.)
Zhong Nanshan, head of the team in the government-run organization, said that medical professionals have been infected, indicating the novel coronavirus is contagious among humans.
The Chinese pulmonologist contributed to discovering a virus causing severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS.
The WHO, meanwhile, announced Monday that it will hold an emergency committee meeting later this week in Geneva to discuss how to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus.
On Monday, Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged to take "decisive" steps to curb the expansion of the novel virus, emphasizing that his leadership will prioritize the safety and health of people.
Health authorities in Wuhan, where the coronavirus outbreak is believed to have originated, have said the risk of continued human-to-human infection is relatively low and preventable, and can be contained.
The city's health authorities said Tuesday it has strengthened security by screening people with infrared thermometers in airports, train stations and bus terminals, while conducting random inspections of vehicles to prevent livestock from coming in and out of Wuhan.
Coronaviruses usually cause common-cold symptoms affecting the nose, sinuses or upper throat, and are spread through sneezing, coughing or direct contact.
In 2003, SARS, possibly originating in bats, emerged and raged in China and then spread worldwide, killing 774 people.
Elsewhere in Asia, Thailand and South Korea have detected infections since earlier this year, while Japan last week reported its first case of pneumonia caused by the new coronavirus.
On Tuesday, Japan's Ambassador to China, Yutaka Yokoi, told reporters in Beijing that the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is watching the situation "with great concern."
"We will make more efforts to collect information and provide information in a timely and appropriate manner," Yokoi added.
Numerous airports around the world, especially in countries and regions like Japan, Hong Kong, Australia and the United States with frequent flights from China, have already implemented stricter screening measures.