A minimum of three employees from a multinational company have contracted the novel coronavirus after attending a conference in Singapore, participated by 109 staff from all over the world. This led the World Health Organization (WHO) to conduct an investigation on the case.

Earlier this week, Malaysia and South Korea confirmed that its nationals have contracted the deadly coronavirus after visiting Singapore in mid-January for a meeting with 94 overseas workers at the Grand Hyatt, Reuters reported.

On Tuesday (4 Feb), Malaysia made a statement that its first infected citizen was a 41-year-old man who had attended the meeting where Chinese delegations had also been present. One of his colleagues was from Wuhan – the city at the centre of the outbreak.

“He returned to Malaysia on 23 Jan, and on 29 Jan he received treatment at a private hospital because of fever and cough,” said Malaysia’s Health Minister Dzulkefly Ahmad in a press conference.

On 2 Feb, he was referred to the Sungai Buloh Hospital, just outside of Kuala Lumpur, and was admitted in an isolation ward. Following tests, he was confirmed positive for the virus on Monday.

South Korea also announced that two of its citizens – a 38-year-old man and a 36-year-old man – who had attended the business event on Wednesday also contracted the virus.

Out of the 109 participants, 15 were Singapore residents, and the Ministry of Health (MOH) announced on late Wednesday that four of them were showing symptoms. They have been referred to the National Centre for Infectious Diseases for assessment.

Authorities have not disclosed the name of the company that carried out the meeting or revealed what business it is involved in.

“WHO is coordinating with relevant ministries of health in relation to it,” Olivia Lawe-Davies, a spokeswoman for the WHO told Reuters.

She added, “As countries are stepping up surveillance, the detection of more cases of local transmission can be expected.”

As of now, 28 infected cases have been reported in Singapore which also includes some locally transmitted cases.

All these cases linked to the Singapore business meeting evidently shows that the virus is spreading through human-to-human contact outside of China. This, according to WHO, is deeply concerning and could lead to a much larger outbreak.

According to the Gerald Kheng, the spokesperson for Grand Hyatt Hotel, after Singapore’s MOH notified the establishment about the infection on Tuesday, the hotel was then deep cleaned. However, the hotel was not aware of any other cases among its staff or guests.

According to the city-state, there is no evidence to suggest that there is any widespread community spread but the government has announced new measures on Tuesday. This involves stopping group activities like school assemblies.

Media and business events have also been suspended by some firms in the country, such as the suspension of a big travel fair. However, the Singapore Airshow is still slated to be held in the following week even if on a smaller scale.

As of now, the number of deaths due to the coronavirus has exceeded 560 people and infected over 28,000 individuals, nearly all of them in Hubei, and spread to two dozen countries since it emerged in December 2019 at a market that sold wild animals in the city.

The number of infections has exceeded the total reported in the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) epidemic in 2003.

Last week, WHO also declared the outbreak in China a global public health emergency, and noted that there are chances for the virus to spread to countries that lack the capabilities to deal with it.

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