The death toll for the virus has continued to increase since the strain was first observed in December 2019 – with some 490 people killed in China, where 24,324 cases have been reported.
Now a newborn child has been confirmed to be among the reported cases – having tested positive for the virus just 30 hours after their birth on 2 February at Wuhan Children Hospital.
Doctors have since raised concerns the illness could have been passed from mother to child in the womb, potentially setting the virus – termed 2019-n-CoV by scientists – apart from other coronaviruses that have led to global health crises like Sars and MERS.
“This reminds us to pay attention to mother-to-child being a possible route of coronavirus transmission,” said the chief physician of Wuhan Children Hospital’s neonatal medicine department, Zeng Lingkong.
The hospital went on to confirm a second case involving an infant – with a child showing symptoms 16 days after their birth.
Both the baby’s nanny and mother were found to have contracted the illness in the days following its birth on 13 January, with the infant showing signs of infection on 29 January.
Neither of the two infants are in a critical condition, according to doctors.
“Whether it was the baby’s nanny who passed to the virus to the mother who passed it to the baby, we cannot be sure at the moment,” Mr Zeng said.
“But we can confirm that the baby was in close contact with patients infected with the new coronavirus, which says newborns can also be infected.”
It comes as the World Health Organisation (WHO) played down media reports on Wednesday of “breakthrough” drugs being discovered to treat those infected across 21 nations including China.
A Chinese TV report said researchers at Zhejiang University had found an effective drug to treat the virus, while Sky News announced researchers had made a “significant breakthrough” in developing a vaccine – prompting a jump in oil prices.
Asked about the reports, WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic said: “There are no known effective therapeutics against this 2019-nCoV (virus) and the WHO recommends enrolment into a randomized controlled trial to test efficacy and safety.”
Additional reporting by Reuters