By Panarat Thepgumpanat
BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thailand has seen its first case of human-to-human transmission of the new coronavirus inside the country, a health official said on Friday, as it raised its total number of cases to 19, the second-highest after China.
The first patient to contract the virus inside Thailand is a Thai taxi driver, said Tanarak Pipat, deputy director-general of the Department of Disease Control.
"(He) ...does not have the record of travelling to China, and it is likely that he was infected (by) a sick traveller from China," Tanarak said.
Authorities have conducted virus scans on 13 people, including three family members, who the taxi driver came into contact with. They said that initially none of them had tested positive for the virus.
"The overall risk of infection in Thailand is still low, but people should take precautions to protect themselves," Tanarak said.
The taxi driver is one of five other coronavirus cases confirmed in Thailand on Friday.
Seven of the 19 cases have recovered and gone home while 12 are still being treated at hospitals. All but two of the cases are Chinese tourists visiting the country, the health authority said.
The vast majority of the almost 10,000 cases identified have been in China, mostly in and around the virus' epicentre of Wuhan, and health authorities worldwide are seeking to keep the infection from spreading.
There have been at least nine cases of human-to-human transmission in five countries outside China: the United States, Germany, Japan, South Korea, Vietnam and now Thailand.
The World Health Organization is looking closely at cases of person-to-person transmission outside of Wuhan, which would suggest that the virus may have the potential to spread further.
(Additional reporting by Panu Wongcha-um. Writing by Kay Johnson; editing by John Stonestreet)
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