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Reports of China's coronavirus jumped over the weekend, and scientists are worried

Jessica Hullinger

The number of reported cases of a pneumonia virus spreading through China jumped over the weekend, CNN reports, bringing the total to 201. On Friday, there were 62 reported cases of the illness in China. By Monday, another 139 cases had been reported, and three people had died. The virus, which originated in a wildlife market in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, has also spread to other countries, including South Korea, Thailand, and Japan, CNN reports.

Health authorities say the pathogen is a new strain of coronavirus, which CNN explains is "in the same family of the deadly severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS)." Its symptoms include fever and shortness of breath, QZ reports.

The outbreak comes as China prepares to celebrate the Lunar New Year. Last year, CNN estimates 7 million people traveled outside the country for the occasion. South Korea has been screening travelers arriving from Wuhan for fever at Seoul's Incheon International Airport. Some airports in the U.S. are doing the same. However, CNN points out that "a new study by Imperial College London suggests the number of infections in Wuhan is likely to have been grossly underestimated."

"The detection of three cases outside China is worrying," Neil Ferguson, a disease outbreak scientist at Imperial College London, said. "We calculate, based on flight and population data, that there is only a 1 in 574 chance that a person infected in Wuhan would travel overseas before they sought medical care. This implies there might have been over 1,700 cases in Wuhan so far."

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