The mysterious coronavirus that has killed at least four people and sickened more than 200 in China is capable of spreading from person to person, a prominent Chinese scientist said on Monday, adding to fears of a broader epidemic.
The disclosure increased pressure on the Chinese government to contain a growing public health crisis, just as China enters its busiest travel season of the year. On Tuesday, the authorities confirmed the fourth death from the illness in the central Chinese city of Wuhan.
The authorities had previously said the deadly virus seemed capable of spreading only from animals to humans in most cases, tracing the outbreak to a market in Wuhan.
But in recent days at least two people have become infected with the pneumonialike virus even though they live hundreds of miles from Wuhan, experts said on Monday, suggesting that the illness is spreading from person to person.
The World Health Organization announced Monday that it was convening an emergency meeting on Wednesday “to ascertain whether the outbreak constitutes a public health emergency of international concern, and what recommendations should be made to manage it.”
Millions of Chinese are traveling this week for the Lunar New Year holiday, adding to fears that the virus could spread swiftly and on a broader scale. Experts said the severity of the outbreak would now depend on how many people, on average, a person with virus could infect.
Also on Monday, the authorities reported that new cases had been detected for the first time in Beijing, Shanghai and the southern province of Guangdong, all hundreds of miles from Wuhan. Cases have also been reported in Japan, South Korea and Thailand. In many of these cases, people infected with the virus had traveled to Wuhan.