At least six persons have died of the new SARS-like virus in China with top leaders warning officials against any cover up of the information on its outbreak even as the WHO is considering declaring an international public health emergency to combat the deadly illness.
The number of infected people has also increased sharply to about 300 as the government scampered to contain its spread by increasing monitoring on the movement of public from the 12 million people strong Wuhan city from where the SARS-like virus was first reported in December.
The World Health Organization (WHO), which is holding an emergency meeting on Wednesday, will consider declaring an international public health emergency over the virus - as it did with swine flu and Ebola, BBC reported.
Such a declaration, if made, will be seen as an urgent call for a coordinated international response in view of fears that millions of Chinese are travelling at home and abroad for the Chinese New Year and Spring Festival holidays starting from January 24.
The week-long festival triggers biggest mass migration, clogging road, rail and air networks every year.
India has already issued a travel warning. Several countries started screening travellers coming from China, especially from Wuhan to detect symptoms like fever.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang confirmed on Monday about Chinese official's attendance at the emergency meeting of the International Health Regulation (IHR) called by the WHO.
Experts from countries from where the virus is reported would also attend the meeting and share the information on the epidemic and come up with scientific solution, he said.
He said China has shared information with the WHO about the virus as well as the countries affected besides Hong Kong and Macau which are special administrative regions of China.
Meanwhile, as the fear grips Chinese cities, the country's top leaders have warned lower-level officials against any cover up in the information relating to the spread of the new coronavirus.
China's National Health Commission on Monday confirmed for the first time that the infection could be transmitted from human-to-human. It said two people in Guangdong province had been infected this way.
In a separate statement, the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission said at least 15 medical workers in Wuhan have also been infected with the virus, with one in a critical condition.
The workers presumably became infected with the virus due to the contact with patients. All of them are being kept in isolation while being treated, BBC reported.
Several cities including Beijing and Shanghai reported the cases of coronavirus.
Geng said the local government of Wuhan has adopted measures to control the people who are leaving the city.
"The latest news I see today is that the local government in Wuhan has strengthened the control of people entering and leaving Wuhan," he said.
But there is no complete ban on people entering and exiting the city, he clarified.
Meanwhile the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CPC) has warned cadres not to cover up the spread of the new virus.
Anyone who withheld information would face severe punishment and be "nailed on the pillar of shame for eternity", Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post reported.
Chang An Jian, the official social media account of the Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission – Beijing's top political body responsible for law and order – ran a commentary on Tuesday, telling cadres not to forget the painful lessons of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) which affected many parts of China and the world in late 2002. Over 800 people died due to the virus.
The Chinese government initially tried to conceal the severity of the SARS epidemic, but its cover-up which was exposed later has led to panic and mistrust about the government handling of the crisis.
"Anyone who puts the face of politicians before the interests of the people will be the sinner of a millennium to the party and the people," the commentary reads.
"Anyone who deliberately delays and hides the reporting of (virus) cases out of his or her own self-interest will be nailed on the pillar of shame for eternity," it added.
The commentary cited an instruction issued by President Xi Jinping on Monday that the virus must be "resolutely contained" and that all cadres must make "the safety of people's lives and their physical health" a top priority.
It stressed that transparency remained the best defence against rumours and public panic.