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  1. ITV Report

China's president Xi Jinping warns coronavirus outbreak must be taken seriously

Chinese President Xi Jinping said it was "extremely crucial" to take every possible measure to combat a new coronavirus which has infected 217 people in the country.

His remarks came the same day the country reported a sharp rise in the number of people infected by the novel form of viral pneumonia.

The new cases of viral pneumonia include two in the capital Beijing and one in Shenzhen, with the death toll from the infection increasing to three, authorities confirmed.

The outbreak comes as the country enters its busiest travel period, when millions board trains and planes for the Lunar New Year holidays.

"The recent outbreak of novel coronavirus pneumonia in Wuhan and other places must be taken seriously," Mr Xi said, according to state broadcaster CCTV.

Chinese President Xi Jinping said it was crucial to take every possible measure to combat a new coronavirus. Credit: AP

He added: "Party committees, governments and relevant departments at all levels should put people’s lives and health first."

They should "ensure that the masses have a quiet, peaceful and joyous Spring Festival", he said.

Health authorities in the central city of Wuhan, where the viral pneumonia appears to have originated, said an additional 136 cases have been confirmed in the city, which now has a total of 198 infected patients.

South Korea reported its first case Monday, when a 35-year-old Chinese woman from Wuhan tested positive for the new coronavirus one day after arriving at Seoul's Incheon airport.

The woman has been isolated at a state-run hospital in Incheon city, just west of Seoul, the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a statement.

At least 136 cases have been identified in the city of Wuhan. Credit: AP

Authorities in Thailand and in Japan have already identified at least three cases, all involving recent travel from China.

Many of the initial cases had connections to a seafood market in Wuhan, which was closed for an investigation.

As hundreds of people who came into close contact with diagnosed patients were not infected themselves, the municipal health commission maintains that the virus is not easily transmitted between humans, though it has not ruled out limited human-to-human transmission.

China’s National Health Commission said experts have judged the current outbreak to be "preventable and controllable".

"However, the source of the new type of coronavirus has not been found, we do not fully understand how the virus is transmitted, and changes in the virus still need to be closely monitored," the commission said on Sunday.

The virus causing the current outbreak is different from those previously identified. Credit: AP

The Chinese government is keen to avoid a repeat of SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, another coronavirus that started in southern China in late 2002 and spread to more than two dozen countries, killing nearly 800 people.

The virus causing the current outbreak is different from those previously identified, Chinese scientists said earlier this month.

Initial symptoms of the novel coronavirus include fever, cough, tightness of the chest and shortness of breath.

On the Weibo social media platform, which is widely used in China, people posted prevention advice such as wearing masks and washing hands.

State broadcaster CCTV recommended staying warm, increasing physical activity, eating lightly and avoiding crowded places.