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Passengers wearing masks are seen at the waiting area for a train to Wuhan at the Beijing West Railway Station, ahead of the Chinese Lunar New Year, in Beijing. Photo: Reuters

BEIJING: A top Chinese expert on infectious diseases has confirmed human-to-human transmission of a SARS-like virus that has spread across the country and reached three other Asian nations, state media reported Monday.

Zhong Nanshan, a renowned scientist at the national health commission who helped expose the scale of the 2003 outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), said human-to-human transmission is “affirmative“, said state broadcaster CCTV.

“Currently, it can be said it is affirmative that there is the phenomenon of human-to-human transmission,” he said in an interview with CCTV.

The new coronavirus strain, first discovered in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, has caused alarm because of its connection to SARS, which killed nearly 650 people across mainland China and Hong Kong in 2002-2003.

Currently, the total number of people diagnosed with the Wuhan disease in China is 218, while Thailand, Japan, and South Korea have also reported cases.

A seafood market in Wuhan is believed to be the centre of the outbreak, but Zhong said patients can contract the virus without having visited the central Chinese city.

In southern Guangdong province, two patients were infected by family members who visited Wuhan, he told CCTV. - AFP

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