China virus spreads to U.S., curbing travel plans and spooking markets

Passengers wearing masks are seen at Shanghai railway station in Shanghai, China January 21, 2020. REUTERS/Aly Song

BEIJING (Reuters) – The toll from the Wuhan coronavirus in China rose to six deaths on Tuesday and the first case was reported in the United States, sending markets tumbling on fears of economic damage as tourists canceled travel plans and airports stepped up screening.

The virus struck as millions of Chinese prepared to travel for the Lunar New Year, heightening contagion risks. Many in China scrambled to buy face masks to protect themselves from the previously unknown, flu-like infection.

The outbreak, which began in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, also worried financial markets as investors recalled China’s Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) epidemic in 2002-2003, a coronavirus outbreak that killed nearly 800 people.

“We’ll stay at home during the holiday. I’m scared as I remember SARS very well,” said Zhang Xinyuan, who had been bound from Beijing for the Thai resort of Phuket before she and her husband decided to cancel their air tickets.

A traveler from China was diagnosed in Seattle with the Wuhan coronavirus, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said, the first case identified in the United States. The patient was in good condition, the CDC said.

The agency said it expected to see more cases in the United States, had developed a new test to identify the virus and was in talks with the National Institutes of Health about developing a vaccine.

Authorities have confirmed more than 300 cases of the virus in China, mostly in Wuhan. Wuhan Mayor Zhou Xianwang told Chinese state television on Tuesday that six people had died in his city.

The disease is spreading around other parts of China, including five cases in capital Beijing.

Cases have also been confirmed in Thailand, South Korea, Japan and Taiwan, all involving people who had been to Wuhan.

Fifteen medical personnel are among those infected.

Symptoms include fever, coughing and difficulty breathing. The viral infection can cause pneumonia.

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