World Bulletin/News Desk
Two people who died in Jordan in April have been found to have been infected with the new virus from the same family as SARS which sparked a global alert in September, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Friday.
The coronavirus, previously unknown in humans, has now been confirmed in a total of nine people in three countries in the Middle East region, including a Saudi who had severe acute respiratory illness last month, the United Nations agency said.
But the two fatal cases in Jordan, confirmed in samples just retested by a WHO collaborating laboratory in Egypt, do not change WHO's assessment that the virus does not appear to spread easily between people, if at all, spokesman Gregory Hartl said.
"These Jordan cases don't change our risk assessment at the moment. We haven't seen any new pattern. These are old cases," Hartl told Reuters.
In a statement, the Geneva-based WHO said: "Two fatal cases in Jordan have been reported to WHO today, bringing the total of laboratory-confirmed cases to nine."
Initially, the samples had tested negative for known coronaviruses and other respiratory viruses in April.
"As the novel coronavirus had not yet been discovered, no specific tests for it were available," the agency said.
The new virus shares some of the symptoms of SARS, or Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, which emerged in China in 2002, spread easily among people and killed around a tenth of the 8,000 people it infected worldwide.
"Based on current information, it does not appear to trasmit easily between people, unlike the SARS virus," WHO said.
The new virus can appear to be pneumonia and acute kidney failure has occurred in five cases, the WHO said.
In all, five cases of the new virus, including three deaths have been confirmed in Saudi Arabia, including three patients in one family, it said. Two cases have been confirmed in Qatar, and both are recovering, while both cases in Jordan were fatal.
The Jordan cases were among a total of 12 cases of severe acute respiratory illness that erupted last April linked to a hospital in Zarqa some 40 kilometres (24 miles) outside Amman, Hartl said. Most were health workers, he added.
"The link is the hospital. It could be some environmental thing or human-to-human transmission," he said.
"The main thing is the fact that even if it were human-to-human transmission, which we don't know, it doesn't seem to spread very well or efficiently," Hartl said.
The two so-called "clusters" of cases, in Saudi Arabia and Jordan, raised the possibility of "limited human-to-human tranmission", or exposure to a common source, the WHO said.
"Ongoing investigation may or may not be able to distinguish between these possibilities," it said, noting some viruses are transmitted within families but are not transmissible enough to cause large community outbreaks.
The WHO urged health authorities in its 194 member states to continue surveillance for the new virus and investigate any unusual patterns.
"Testing for the new coronavirus of patients with unexplained pneumonias should be considered, especially in persons residing in or returning from the Arabian peninsula and neighbouring countries," it said.
Beginning with Saudi Arabia, Turkish president's 2-day Gulf tour amid Qatar crisis continues with Kuwait
A second Jordanian was wounded "in a shooting at a residential building inside the compound of the Israeli embassy," the police said in a statement.
Qatar's emir pledged to resolve the remaining differences, and this will help resolve the dispute, says Boris Johnson
Authorities say those killed were members of Hasm group, which government links to Muslim Brotherhood
Turkish president's two-day tour also includes Kuwait and Qatar
"Jerusalem is a red line," its chief Ahmed Abul Gheit said in a statement, adding that "no Arab or Muslim will accept violations" against the city's holy sites.
European bloc's foreign policy chief arrived in Kuwait to show support for Kuwaiti mediation to solve Gulf crisis
Regime Defense Ministry says nothing about how long cease-fire will last after 5-year siege
Foreign Ministry urges Israel not to change status quo of Al-Aqsa complex so it is accessible to all Muslims
President of the World Association of Muslim Scholars Yusuf al-Qaradavi stated that Jerusalem deals with not only the Palestinians but the entire Islamic ummah.
At least 5 Hezbollah, 17 opposition fighters reported killed
Israel criticized for ‘disproportionate’ force against Palestinians
12 militants’ vehicles destroyed, including four rigged with bombs
Israeli settlers killed in alleged stabbing attack in occupied West Bank, amid backdrop of Al-Aqsa turmoil
Qatari emir thanks Turkey for its support during crisis, says the plot against his country was pre-planned