‘Coronavirus’ ability to spread getting stronger’

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Beijing: Scientists in China are ramping up efforts to develop a vaccine against the deadly coronavirus as the death toll on Sunday rose sharply to 56 and the number of people infected with the SARS-like virus expected to reach 3,000, prompting authorities to expand travel lockdown to contain the epidemic.

The mayor of Hubei province’s capital Wuhan, a city of about 11 million and the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak that has killed 56 and infected 1,975 people, on Sunday said he expects another 1,000 new patients in the city, according to state broadcaster CCTV.

Zhou Xianwang said that “it was possible to add about 1,000 cases” based on the number of patients in hospital being tested or undergoing observation in the city.

Premier Li Keqiang will head the high-level group to fight the coronavirus epidemic as health officials said the virus’s ability to spread is getting stronger.

The Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention announced on Sunday that researchers had isolated viruses and were selecting a strain, Xu Wenbo, a director of CDC’s virus institute, told ‘South China Morning Post’.

Xu at a press conference in Beijing said that researchers had used high-throughput genetic sequencing to identify pathogens one day after the first four samples were sent from Wuhan on January 2.

China’s National Health Commission on Sunday said the new coronavirus is contagious even in its incubation period, which lasts up to 14 days, and that the virus’ ability to spread is getting stronger, the Hong Kong-based daily reported.

Ma Xiaowei, the Minister In-Charge of the NHC, told a press briefing that the authorities’ understanding of the virus was “limited” and they were also unclear on the risks posed by possible mutations.

“The outbreak is expected to continue for some time,” he was quoted as saying.