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Coronavirus: there are 2 types, Chinese researchers find, while authorities say faeces and urine can transmit the infection

South China Morning Post logo South China Morning Post 4/3/2020 Gigi Choy, Teddy Ng
a man standing next to a building: South Korean soldiers wearing protective gear spray disinfectant in Seoul as part of preventive measures against the coronavirus. Photo: AFP © AFP South Korean soldiers wearing protective gear spray disinfectant in Seoul as part of preventive measures against the coronavirus. Photo: AFP
  • Mainland China reports 38 new deaths by Wednesday morning, a rise from the previous day’s count, but new infections fall again to 119
  • Champions League and Europa League matches in Spain to be held behind closed doors

South Korea on Wednesday confirmed 142 new cases of the coronavirus, down from 851 a day earlier, taking the country’s total infections to 5,328 – the world’s largest after China. It reported four new deaths as the country’s toll reached 32.

Mainland China’s new daily cases continued to drop as it reported 119 infections, but the day’s new reported deaths jumped to 38, from 31 a day earlier, bringing its total fatalities to 2,981.

China’s National Health Commission (NHC) said 115 of the new cases on the mainland were reported in Hubei province, the outbreak’s epicentre. The total number of infections in mainland China stood at 80,270, with 49,856 patients having recovered.

‘Two types of coronavirus’

The coronavirus has evolved into two major types, with differing transmission rates and geographical distribution, according to a study published in the National Science Review on Tuesday.

A group of Chinese scientists analysed 103 coronavirus genomes and identified mutations in 149 sites across the strains.

They found that one type, which they called the L type, was more prevalent than the other, the S type, meaning it was more infectious. They also found that the L type had evolved from the S type, and that the L type was far more widespread before January 7 and in Wuhan, the epicentre of the outbreak.

Human actions soon after the outbreak was discovered in December may have changed the abundance of each type, the report said, citing the Chinese central and local governments’ drastic containment measures including lockdowns of cities, which it said may have curbed the spread of the L type.

The researchers said follow-up studies were needed to form a better understanding of the virus’ evolution and spread.

The spread of infection through faeces and urine has been recognised as an additional mode of transmission in China’s latest coronavirus diagnosis and treatment plan.

Citing research in which traces of coronavirus were found in patients’ stool samples, the NHC’s plan added contact with and aerosolisation of contaminated faeces and urine as transmission modes. Aerosolisation refers to conversion into particles small enough to be carried in the air.

Chinese health authorities have said that respiratory droplets and close contact with infected people are the main ways the coronavirus is spread. The NHC added in its previous treatment plan that aerosol transmission was possible for those in a relatively closed environment for long periods.

Global mask and gown shortages

The World Health Organisation (WHO) warned that severe and mounting disruption to the global supply of protective equipment was leaving health care workers ill-equipped to fight the outbreak.

"Prices of surgical masks have increased six-fold, N95 respirators have more than tripled and gowns cost twice as much,” WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a media briefing on Tuesday. "Supplies can take months to deliver, market manipulation is widespread, and stocks are often sold to the highest bidder.”

The UN agency has estimated that manufacturing of protective equipment supplies needs to be increased by 40 per cent to meet rising global demand. It said 89 million medical masks, 76 million pairs of examination gloves and 1.6 million pairs of goggles were needed each month for the global response.

South Korea’s government also announced a stimulus package of 11.7 trillion won (US$9.8 billion) to cushion the impact of the largest outbreak of the coronavirus outside China, which has disrupted supply and sapped consumption.

Finance Minister Hong Nam-ki said the supplementary budget, subject to parliamentary approval, would channel money to the health system, child care and outdoor markets.

"As we understand that the economy is in a state of emergency, we are putting all our policy focus on minimising the economic fallout, especially for the vulnerable sectors, small to medium-sized businesses and self-employed people,” Hong told a press conference.

Spain’s first death, and decision on football matches

Post-mortem results for a man who died in Valencia on February 13 have shown that he was killed by the coronavirus, representing Spain’s first fatality of the outbreak, a local health official said on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, the country’s health ministry announced on Twitter that several sporting events would be held behind closed doors, with fixtures expected to draw crowds from high-risk areas, such as northern Italy, to be played without spectators.

The decision affects football matches including the Champions League fixture between Valencia and Italy’s Atalanta on March 10, and the March 19 Europa League match between Getafe and Inter Milan. Several basketball fixtures will also be affected.

About 100 health workers in the northern Basque region have been isolated in their homes after coming into contact with people carrying the virus.

Authorities are monitoring two clusters of the infection, in Torrejon de Ardoz, near Madrid, and the Basque city of Vitoria-Gasteiz.

In China, more than a dozen disinfectant workers were nearing completion of the clean-up of the market in the city of Wuhan, Hubei’s provincial capital, where some of the first coronavirus infections were reported in late December.

The cleaning of Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market, where wild animals were traded, is due to be completed by Thursday.

Chinese Defence Minister Wei Fenghe discussed the coronavirus with US Defence Secretary Mark Esper during a telephone call on Wednesday that also covered military matters, China’s defence ministry said.

Wei said the encouraging trend in China’s coronavirus containment was expanding, according to a statement posted on the Chinese ministry’s WeChat account.

Esper expressed a willingness to strengthen cooperation between the two countries in epidemic control and prevention.

Additional reporting by Reuters

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