Beijing on alert for Middle East virus

BEIJING - Beijing can't rule out the possibility of new SARS-like coronavirus MERS-CoV infections, said the city's health authorities on Monday. The virus originated in the Middle East.

The Beijing Municipal Bureau of Health called for vigilance among the general public and urged travelers returning from the Middle East who develop respiratory infections to see a doctor as soon as possible, according to Beijing Times.

The city has to cope with the possible spread of the new virus shortly after it tackled the H7N9 bird flu scare.

Beijing has launched a 24/7 clinical service with 110 participating experts on call. Hospitals have been required to intensify inspections on respiratory cases, report anything suspicious and send samples to the city's Center of Disease Control.

The first documented cases of MERS-CoV occurred in Jordan in early 2012.

The virus, which can cause coughing, fever and pneumonia, has spread from the Middle East to France, Germany, Italy, Tunisia and Britain. Due to its origin, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has called it the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV).

The WHO said in a statement the worldwide toll now stood at 38 deaths from 64 laboratory-confirmed cases. Saudi Arabia has been the most affected country, with 49 confirmed cases and 32 deaths.

So far, the virus appears to spread between people only when there is close, prolonged contact.

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