A Chinese tourist was found to be infected with the new strain of coronavirus when she arrived in Thailand, is being treated in hospital and is expected to be discharged in a few days, Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul said on Monday.
Mr Anutin said the 61-year-old woman was recovering at Bamrasnaradura Infectious Diseases Institute in Nonthaburi province.
She now had no fever or any respiratory symptoms. If doctors gave her a clearance she would be allowed to go home in a few days, said Mr Anutin.
Sixteen other people who were close to the woman on the same flight were examined, and the results were negative, he said.
Mr Anutin said 59 people in China have been confirmed infected with the new strain of the coronavirus, which has been linked to a sudden outbreak of pneumonia in central China. One of them died. All had attended big markets selling animals and seafood in Wuhan city. They were either workers or buyers. There had not been any human-to-human transmission of the virus.
The ill Chinese woman was the first person detected with the virus outside China. Her discovery and successful treatment was indicative of the efficiency and effectiveness of health services in Thailand, Mr Anutin said.
Health officials have been checking passengers from Wuhan arriving at Suvarnabhumi, Don Mueang, Phuket and Chiang Mai airports since Jan 3. They had found 12 ill passengers who justified being quarantined. Eight had so far been treated and discharged from hospital.
The Chinese woman was being was treated in an isolation ward. Her infection with the new coronavirus was confirmed on Sunday, Mr Anutin said.
The Public Health Ministry had not found anyone else infected with it, he said.
One of Wuhan’s largest meat and seafood markets was pinpointed as the centre of the mysterious pneumonia outbreak and was shut down on Jan. 1. The man who died had been a customer at that market.
Chinese scientists identified the new virus strain last week.
Coronaviruses are not necessarily life-threatening but have been the underlying cause of public health crises, including severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, which killed hundreds of people after an outbreak in southern China in 2002 and 2003.
The Wuhan viral outbreak seems to be less virulent and less transmittable, according to the World Health Organisation.
WHO takes action
The World Health Organization confirmed later on Monday the first case in Thailand of a new virus from the same family as Sars that is behind a Chinese pneumonia outbreak.
The UN health agency said a person travelling from Wuhan, China, had been hospitalised in Thailand on Jan 8 after being diagnosed with mild pneumonia.
"Laboratory testing subsequently confirmed that the novel coronavirus was the cause," WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic told AFP in an email, referring to the new virus.
WHO said it might soon host an emergency meeting on the spread of the new virus.
The case marks the first outside of China, where 41 people with pneumonia-like symptoms have so far been diagnosed with the new virus in the central city of Wuhan, with one of the victims dying last Thursday.
The episode has caused alarm due to the spectre of Sars, or Sudden Acute Respiratory Syndrome, which in 2002-2003 killed 349 people in mainland China and another 299 in Hong Kong, whose economy was hit hard by the epidemic's devastating impact on tourism.
The WHO has confirmed that the outbreak in China has been caused by a previously unknown type of corona virus, a broad family ranging from the common cold to more serious illnesses like Sars.
The agency said Monday it had been informed by Thai health officials that the patient there was recovering from the illness.
It stressed that it was not surprising that the virus had spread beyond China.
"The possibility of cases being identified in other countries was not unexpected, and reinforces why WHO calls for on-going active monitoring and preparedness in other countries," it said in a statement.
It pointed out that it had issued guidance on how to detect and treat people who fall ill with the new virus, and stressed that China's decision to rapidly share the genetic sequencing of the virus made it possible to quickly diagnose patients.
WHO has not recommended any specific measures for travellers or restrictions on trade with China, but stressed Monday it was taking the situation seriously.
"Given developments, WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus will consult with Emergency Committee members and could call for a meeting of the committee on short notice," it said in a statement.