BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – Asian countries on Tuesday ramped up measures to block the spread of a new super virus as the death toll in China rose to six and the number of cases surpassed 300, raising concerns in the middle of a major travel rush for the Lunar New Year holiday.

Nations across the Asia-Pacific region stepped up checks of passengers at airports to detect the SARS-like coronavirus, which first emerged in the central Chinese city of Wuhan.

Brunei’s Ministry of Health also announced they would use thermal scanning at Brunei International Airport from January 21.

Fears of a bigger outbreak rose after a prominent expert from China’s National Health Commission confirmed late Monday that the virus can be passed between people.

Authorities previously said there was no obvious evidence of person-to-person transmission and animals were suspected to be the source, as a seafood market where live animals were sold in Wuhan was identified as the centre of the outbreak.

But the World Health Organization (WHO), which was concluding a fact-finding mission in Wuhan, was still being cautious, saying at a briefing in Geneva that “not enough is known to draw definitive conclusions about how it is transmitted”.

Spokesman Tarik Jasarevic warned though that “more cases should be expected” both in China and in other countries. Five cases outside China have been reported so far — two in Thailand, with the rest in Japan, South Korea and the United States.

Hundreds of millions of people are criss-crossing China this week in packed buses, trains and planes to celebrate the Lunar New Year with relatives.

The coronavirus has caused alarm because of its genetic similarities to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which killed nearly 650 people across mainland China and Hong Kong in 2002-2003.

Compared with SARS, the symptoms appear to be less aggressive, and experts say the death toll is still relatively low.

People wearing protective masks arrive at Beijing railway station to head home for the Lunar New Year on January 21, 2020. Photo: AFP

‘No cases detected in Brunei’

Brunei’s health ministry said Saturday there were no signs of coronavirus in the country, but that there has been an uptick in the number of patients with influenza-like illnesses since December. 

From December 2019 to January 17 of this year, a total of 6,274 people received treatment for influenza-like illnesses at government health centres and hospitals compared to 5,163 during the same period last year.

An analysis of these illnesses showed no signs of the new influenza virus emerging from Wuhan, China, the Ministry of Health said, adding that it will continue to monitor influenza trends locally.

Influenza is a viral infection with symptoms such as cold or flu, sore throat, cough, headache, muscle aches, joint pain and nausea. 

High risk groups — such as the elderly, pregnant women and those with chronic diseases including diabetes, hypertension and asthma — are strongly encouraged to get vaccinated.

Those who show signs of influenza infection are advised to stay home and avoid going to crowded places.

The ministry also advised travellers to purchase medical or travel insurance when going abroad.

— With additional reporting from AFP 

This article was last updated at 5.33pm on January 23, 2020.