Thailand finds fourth coronavirus ahead of Lunar New Year

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thailand has quarantined a fourth patient with the new coronavirus, including one Thai national, authorities said on Wednesday, days before Saturday’s start of the Lunar New Year holiday is expected to bring an influx of Chinese tourists.

At least nine people have died from the flu-like virus in China following an outbreak in the central city of Wuhan, and more than 470 cases have been reported globally. Global health authorities and financial markets fear the transmission rate will accelerate as hundreds of millions of Chinese travel domestically and abroad for the holiday.

Thai officials were stepping up screening at airports to look for passengers with high body temperatures, coughs, headaches and trouble breathing, police said.

The Thai patient, a 73-year-old woman, had traveled to Wuhan during the New Year holiday and developed a fever after returning. She was admitted to the hospital on Jan. 15, the Public Health Ministry said. She was being monitored in a separate ward in a hospital in Nakhon Pathom, 60 km (37 miles) west of Bangkok, where her condition was gradually improving.

“We can control the situation. There have not been cases of human-to-human transmission in Thailand because we detected the patients as soon as they arrived,” Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul told reporters.

The other three patients in Thailand were Chinese. Two had recovered and been sent home, while a third would return once tests showed he was clear of the virus, Anutin said.

The virus has spread to Beijing and Shanghai, as well as the United States, South Korea, Japan and Taiwan. Singapore on Wednesday began screening all passengers arriving on flights from China.

The Tourism Council of Thailand said that if the virus situation persists, it could have an impact on the industry, which accounts for 12% of the Thai economy. It predicts 41 million tourists will come to Thailand this year.

“If China asks its people from other areas not to leave the country, that will affect our tourist target this year,” the council’s president, Chairat Triratanajaraspon, told Reuters.

Share prices of hotel operator Central Plaza Hotel Pcl CENTEL.BK fell nearly 4% and Airports of Thailand Pcl AOT.BK, which operates the international Suvarnabhumi airport, also dropped 1.3% with a smaller decline the benchmark index.

The price movements were attributed to an overreaction by retail investors, said Vikas Kwatra, head of foreign institution sales at SCB Securities.

“Sentiment has caused more damage than reality,” he said.

Reporting by Chayut Setboonsarng, Panarat Thepgumpanat and Satawasin Staporncharnchai; Editing by Stephen Coates and Peter Graff