Nine people have died and hundreds have been infected by a new type of coronavirus, according to Chinese medical authorities.
Beijing has identified 440 patients carrying the virus across 13 Chinese provinces, said Li Bin, deputy director of the National Health Commission, according to state broadcaster CCTV.
Elsewhere, the semi-autonomous territory of Macao also confirmed its first case on Wednesday, adding to infections detected in Taiwan, the Philippines, Thailand, Japan and South Korea.
As with all the cases that have been identified so far outside of China’s borders, the Macao patient had travelled to the central Chinese metropolis of Wuhan, where scientists suspect the virus was initially transmitted from animals to people.
The US reported its first patient carrying the disease on Tuesday – a US citizen who had visited Wuhan.
The new coronavirus belongs to the same family of viruses that caused Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, a disease that killed 800 people globally in a 2002-03 pandemic that also started in China.
Fears about the spread of the disease are growing as millions of people are travelling to their hometowns this week to celebrate the Lunar New Year, which falls on Saturday.
Face masks were rapidly selling out in major Chinese cities on Wednesday, following Chinese authorities’ announcement earlier in the week that the coronavirus was transmittable from person to person.
Authorities are asking people to avoid travelling to Wuhan if possible.
The city on Tuesday imposed travel restrictions and said it had installed infrared thermometers at airports, railway and bus stations and was disinfecting public transport vehicles daily.