Medical staff members carry a patient into the Jinyintan hospital in Wuhan, China, on Saturday. AFP
China reported 17 new cases of the mysterious SARS-like virus on Sunday, including three in a severe condition, heightening fears ahead of China's Lunar New Year holiday when hundreds of millions of people move around the country.
The new coronavirus strain has caused alarm because of its connection to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, which killed nearly 650 people across mainland China and Hong Kong in 2002-2003.
Of the 17 new cases in the central city of Wuhan — believed to be the epicentre of the outbreak — three were described as "severe", of which two patients were too critical to be moved, authorities said.
Those infected range from 30 to 79 years old.
The virus has now infected 62 people in Wuhan, city authorities said, with eight in a severe condition, 19 cured and discharged from hospital, and the rest remaining in isolation receiving treatment.
Two people have died so far from the virus, including a 69-year-old man who died on Wednesday after the disease caused pulmonary tuberculosis and damaged multiple organ functions.
Authorities said they had begun "optimised" testing of pneumonia cases across the city to identify those infected, and would begin "detection work... towards suspected cases in the city" as a next step, as well as carrying out "sampling tests".
Scientists with the MRC Centre for Global Infectious Disease Analysis at Imperial College in London warned in a paper published Friday that the number of cases in the city was likely to be closer to 1,700, much higher than the number officially identified.
Authorities said Sunday that some of the cases had "no history of contact" with the seafood market believed to be the centre of the outbreak.
No human-to-human transmission has been confirmed so far, but Wuhan's health commission has previously said the possibility "cannot be excluded".
Three cases have also been reported overseas -- two in Thailand and one in Japan.Agence France-Presse
State broadcaster CCTV reported that Xi said "the safety of people's lives and their physical health should be given top priority", as the virus fuelled fears of a major outbreak during the Lunar New Year migration this week.
A Queensland Health spokesperson said man had recently returned from the central Chinese city of Wuhan, believed to be the epicentre of an outbreak of coronavirus, which has infected a total of 218 people and caused at least four deaths.
The World Health Organization (WHO) which issues alerts and advisories on outbreaks and epidemics to governments, stated in its website that “Novel Coronavirus is a new strain of the large family of respiratory viruses that can cause diseases ranging from common cold to the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome and the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome.”
About half the country's roughly 110 million people are currently under quarantine — including millions in deep poverty, left jobless by tough restrictions on movement.
The first phase testing would take around three months, CSIRO's director of health Rob Grenfell told Reuters, adding that any resulting vaccine would not be available to the public before late next year.
Confirmed coronavirus infections around the world approached one million on Thursday as the pandemic spread at a "near-exponential" rate, with a six-week-old baby becoming one of the youngest known victims.