Two patients were admitted to the Tuen Mun Hospital on Tuesday as they had a fever after visiting Wuhan. Photo: Google Maps

The pneumonia-like disease that has broken out in China’s Wuhan province has been identified as a new kind of coronavirus, similar to severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), according to a team of experts from the mainland.

At 9pm on Tuesday, a group of mainland experts identified the DNA sequence of the unknown virus in a laboratory, while 15 samples showed positive results in nucleic acid tests, China Central Television reported on Thursday.

Under a microscope, the virus showed the shape of a coronavirus.

The experts said they would be able to find out the pathogen’s nucleic acids, genome and antibody in the short term, but it would take several weeks to separate the pathogen and analyze its pathogenicity.

They added that it would take several years to develop a specific remedy or a vaccine for this new virus.

Coronavirus is a pathogen that can cause illness in the respiratory or digestive tracks. Apart from human infections, it can also infect pigs, cows, cats, dogs, ferrets, camels, rats and hedgehogs. There were six kinds of coronaviruses that could infect humans, including SARS and MERS, while the remaining four can only lead to mild respiratory tract infections.

At 8pm on Sunday, The Wuhan Municipal Health Commission released a statement saying, it had identified 59 people who were infected by an unknown pneumonia disease. Seven cases were serious. However, the commission has not updated the figures since then.

According to the latest CCTV report, eight patients had recovered and left the hospital in Wuhan.

Yuen Kwok-Jung, the Chair of Infectious Disease at the Department of Microbiology of the University of Hong Kong, said the mainland experts’ test results matched with the forecast made by Hong Kong microbiologists.

Yuen said it was difficult to determine whether this new coronavirus could be transmitted between humans like all the six identified coronaviruses.

He said all the six coronaviruses were originated from bats, while SARS and MERS were spread to humans from masked palm civets and camels, respectively. He said it was important to discover which wild animal had spread the Wuhan disease to humans.

David Hui Shu-cheong, chairman, Department of Medicine and Therapeutics, Faculty of Medicine, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, said he had contacted his mainland colleagues and the team of experts there would probably be able to publish an initial report about this new coronavirus next week.

On Wednesday, Hong Kong’s Center for Health Protection announced that a total of 38 suspected cases related to the “severe respiratory disease associated with a novel infectious agent” had been reported since December 31. Twenty-one people have recovered and left hospitals and none of the cases were confirmed as the Wuhan disease.

China’s Ministry of Transport said Thursday that it would take extra measures to ensure hygiene in public transport as the number of passengers in the country could reach three billion during the Chinese New Year holidays two weeks later.

Read: Wuhan disease spread by bats, animals: expert

Read: Wuhan disease human transmission not ruled out

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