Cases of mystery respiratory illness in China rise to 44

SARS killed 349 people in mainland China and another 299 in Hong Kong in 2003

SARS killed 349 people in mainland China and another 299 in Hong Kong in 2003 More

Comparisons to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) were drawn on social media after the city's health department posted a notice online Monday which instructed hospitals to report any and all new cases of the as yet unidentified viral pneumonia.

According to a transcript, Sophia Chan, secretary for food and health, said Hong Kong hasn't received any Wuhan-related severe pneumonia cases and that the three patients admitted to hospitals in Hong Kong had not visited the Wuhan market.

All were being treated in isolation and 121 people who had been in close contact with them were under observation.

The outbreak has prompted Singapore and Hong Kong to bring in screening processes for travellers from the city.

The sickness, which is being compared to bird flu and SARS, appears to have originated in or near the Huanan seafood market, and some of the original infections were traced to workers who operate stalls there.

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Of the people infected, seven are in critical condition, 18 are stable and two are on the verge of being discharged soon. Initial lab tests that showed "no apparent human-to-human transmission" and no medical staff were infected, according to the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission.

Hong Kong on Friday launched new measures to check the body temperature of those arriving from Wuhan in China to prevent the possible spread of an unknown pneumonia-like disease.

An investigation and cleanup were under way at a seafood market in the city where most of the patients worked.

The Chinese National Health Commission, a cabinet-level executive department for sanitation and health, said it has sent a group of experts to Wuhan on December 31 to lead more tests and another investigation.

Several people were arrested for circulating fake news online about the viral spread of pneumonia, provincial authorities said, adding that rumours on social media alleging that there had been an outbreak of Sars are untrue and no person-to-person transmission has been found so far.

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Hong Kong's Secretary for Food and Health, Sophia Chan, second from left, on January 2 chairs a meeting to examine prevention measures adopted in response to the pneumonia cases detected in Wuhan.

Every day, there are four trains that run between Hong Kong and Wuhan.

In Hong Kong, thermal imaging systems will be deployed as part of increased fever surveillance at boundary checkpoints, authorities said.

In 2003, Chinese officials were forced to apologize after it was revealed that they had covered up an outbreak of SARS for weeks.

Taiwan has implemented similar measures, its Centre for Disease Control said Tuesday.

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Since 2004, there have not been any known cases of SARS reported anywhere in the world, the NHS says.

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