A Chinese tourist has been quarantined in Thailand with a mystery strain of coronavirus, the first time it has been detected outside China, the Thai Health Ministry have confirmed.
A 61-year-old man last week became the first person to die in China from a respiratory illness believed caused by a new virus from the same family as SARS, which claimed hundreds of lives more than a decade ago.
Forty-one people with pneumonia-like symptoms have so far been diagnosed with the new virus in Wuhan, with seven in critical condition, Wuhan health authorities said on Saturday.
Thai authorities are stepping up monitoring at airports ahead of the Chinese New Year holiday next week, when hundreds of thousands of Chinese tourists are expected to visit.
Of 12 passengers quarantined since Jan 3, lab results showed that a 61-year-old Chinese woman carried a strain of the coronavirus, the Thai Health Ministry said on Monday.
The woman, who was quarantined on Wednesday, had received treatment and was well enough to return home, the ministry said.
“Being able to identify a patient shows that there is efficiency in our monitoring system. We are confident that we can manage the situation,” Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul told reporters.
The Chinese outbreak of pneumonia appeared to be linked to a single seafood market in Wuhan and had not so far spread beyond there, the World Health Organisation said on Sunday.
Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in the city centre – where multiple pneumonia patients worked – is still cordoned off after being shut down on Jan 1.
No clear evidence of human-to-human transmission has yet been detected, according to the local health commission.
Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that can cause infections ranging from the common cold to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).
Some of the virus types cause less severe disease, while some – like the one that causes Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) – are far more severe.
WHO officials in Thailand were not immediately available for comment on Monday.
Thailand receives about 10 million Chinese tourists each year. The Chinese New Year holiday begins on Jan 25.