BEIJING — The number of people known to have been infected with the coronavirus jumped Monday to over 200 from 62, with new cases reported in China's capital and other Asian countries.
Over the weekend, a third patient in the region died of the pneumonia-like virus, bringing the death toll to three.
Authorities in Wuhan, where coronavirus appears to have originated, said 136 new cases have been confirmed in the city in central China. As of Monday, there were a total of 198 infected patients in Wuhan, bringing the worldwide total to more than 200.
Experts say the recent spike in cases is largely due to more testing and looking for cases, not because of a faster spread of the virus.
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The outbreak has coincided with one of the busiest travel periods of the year with millions of people journeying inside and outside of China for the Lunar New Year.
The virus has now spread beyond the confines of Wuhan with five people in Beijing, one in Shanghai, and 14 in the Guangdong province being diagnosed, according to health officials. Authorities in Thailand and Japan have identified at least three cases, all involving recent travel from China.
Meanwhile, South Korea reported its first case — a 35-year-old Chinese woman from Wuhan who tested positive for the disease one day after arriving at an airport in Seoul. The woman is hospitalized in isolation, according to The Associated Press.
Chinese President Xi Jinping said Monday that it's “extremely crucial” to take every possible measure to combat the virus.
“Party committees, governments and relevant departments at all levels should put people's lives and health first,” he said on state broadcaster CCTV.
Initial symptoms of the virus include fever, cough, tightness of the chest and shortness of breath.
The outbreak has put other countries on high alert with at least a half-dozen nations in Asia screening airline passengers from central China. The United States said Friday that it also would begin screening for sick travelers at three U.S. airports — the John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, the San Francisco International Airport and the Los Angeles International Airport.
The World Health Organization has warned the virus is a new strain that has not been previously identified in humans.
It belongs to the large family of coronaviruses that can cause illnesses ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which killed nearly 800 people globally during a 2002-2003 outbreak that also started in China.
Dawn Liu and Eric Baculinao reported from Beijing, and Isobel van Hagen reported from London.
Dawn Liu is a researcher for NBC News based in Beijing.
Eric Baculinao is a producer based in Beijing. A long-term resident of Beijing who is fluent in Chinese, Baculiano scans Chinese news daily for hints of major new policy trends and insights into the workings of China's secretive Communist Party and government leadership.