Chinese authorities are trying desperately to contain the Coronavirus, which is now confirmed to be passed directly between humans.

But this crisis has come at the worst time. With the Chinese New year just around the corner, many Chinese ex-pats from around the world are travelling home to spend the holiday with their families.

With confirmed cases of the deadly virus in Shanghai and the capital Beijing as well as the central province of Hubei, the potential for the disease to become a pandemic ‘plane plague’ spreading across the globe is a real and terrifying possibility.

There are already confirmed cases in South Korea and Japan as well as, most worryingly, tourist hotspot Thailand.

The virus appears to be closely related to SARS, which is thought to have killed at least 775

"One of the consequences of a more connected world is that outbreaks have the potential to spread internationally much more rapidly than was the case 50 years ago," said Mike Turner, director of science at UK health charity, the Wellcome Trust.

There have been around 280 confirmed cases in China so far but experts at Imperial College London believe the figure could be closer to 1,700.

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The Wellcome Trust’s Jeremy Farrar said the outbreak is "extremely concerning."

"It is possible that often mild symptoms, and probability of people being affected and infectious without experiencing symptoms, from this coronavirus may be masking the true numbers of people who have been infected, and the extent of person to person transmission.”

The true scale of the outbreak is likely far bigger than officially reported, scientists have warned

It is people who are at present showing only mild symptoms are the greatest concern, as they may not be identified by the international travel restrictions currently in place.

The US and most Asian countries have stepped up screenings of travellers from southern China and the World Health Organisation has warned hospitals worldwide that a wider outbreak is possible.

The Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market, which is thought to be where the outbreak started, remains closed

"I am substantially more concerned than I was a week ago," said disease outbreak scientist Prof Neil Ferguson.

The World Health Organisation has said that it will be holding an emergency meeting on Wednesday to discuss the outbreak.