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The news that a new form of coronavirus had been identified in the major Chinese city of Wuhan was enough to send Asian stock markets into retreat on Monday (20 January) while in Europe, luxury-goods makers with Chinese order books also took a hit.

Despite the start of the Chinese New Year celebrations, which results in the largest human migration on Earth as millions return home to their families or travel abroad, stock markets were quick to move on, apparently due to China’s speedy response, which included a nationwide screening program.

Now wash your hands…

Even so, media outlets reported that China had quickly sold out of sanitising hand wash and face masks while British experts suggested that as many as 1,700 people – about three times current Chinese estimates – could be carrying the virus that’s spread mainly through coughs and sneezes.

By Tuesday, Hong Kong had reported its first case and, a day later, a host of other countries including the US, Japan, South Korea, Singapore and Thailand had all reported similar outbreaks.

According to local reports, the outbreak, which has now claimed 25 lives, originated in a seafood market that also (illegally) trades in live wild animals, suggesting that the virus had jumped across from animal hosts. The new virus, christened ‘2019-nCoV’, has triggered memories of the SARS crisis in 2002, which infected more than 8,000 people and subsequently killed almost 800 people across Asia and elsewhere.

On Wednesday, the UK’s Department of Health announced “enhanced monitoring” for all flights arriving from China while the World Health Organization (WHO) was still debating whether to declare an international public health emergency.