In China, a doctor suspected of having the coronavirus died on Saturday in Hubei, according to local media. It’s not immediately clear if the 62-year-old specialist was working on the front lines to treat the illness
WUHAN, CHINA (AFP, REUTERS, BLOOMBERG) – The fast-spreading novel coronavirus reached Canada and Chinese President Xi Jinping ordered a faster response at home as the death toll in his country rose to at least 56.
The virus originated in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in Hubei province late last year and has spread to Chinese cities including Beijing and Shanghai, as well as Singapore, the United States, Thailand, South Korea, Japan, Australia, France and Canada.
In Singapore, the Ministry of Health confirmed a fourth case of Wuhan virus infection on Sunday.
Meanwhile, more deaths were reported in regions outside of Wuhan, the epicentre of the virus, and the number of confirmed infections surged to 1,975 as of Saturday (Jan 25), with 324 people considered to be in severe condition.
Among the new deaths, 13 were in Hubei, the province at the heart of the outbreak, while Shanghai reported its first death.
At least 52 people have now died in total in Hubei, two in central Henan province, one in Heilongjiang in the northeast and one in Hebei in the north.
Hubei’s health authorities separately reported 323 new confirmed cases of the virus, which first emerged in the provincial capital, Wuhan, in late December.
China‘s President Xi Jinping warned Saturday that China faced a “grave situation” . Teams from Beijing are being sent to hard-hit areas to push local governments to “comprehensively strengthen front-line prevention and containment,” according to a statement issued on Saturday after Xi led a meeting of the Communist Party’s top leaders . Reports have emerged of hospitals at the centre of the outbreak struggling to cope with growing numbers of sick people.
Criticism of the government’s handling of the crisis on Chinese social media has centered on the initial response by authorities in Wuhan, epicentre of the virus, and Xi has warned officials who withhold information will be punished. He said a group will be set up to oversee the response to the epidemic, and it will report directly to China’s seven most powerful leaders.
Canada is the 16th country or territory to confirm it has someone infected – a man who returned to Toronto Jan 22 after visiting Wuhan. Ontario Chief Medical Officer of Health David Williams said Toronto health authorities are in touch with federal officials to help determine who came in contact with the man, in his 50s, on his flights from Wuhan.
US President Donald Trump, who is negotiating a trade agreement with China, on Friday praised its efforts to control the outbreak and thanked Xi. The US plans to close its consulate in Wuhan temporarily and evacuate some Americans in a charter flight on Sunday, Dow Jones reported Saturday. Diplomats and medical personnel will also be on board the flight, it said, citing a source it didn’t identify.
Authorities in Hubei Province, which includes Wuhan, issued an urgent appeal for protective clothing, face masks for civilians and surgical masks for doctors, goggles and disinfectant to help contain the epidemic, the People’s Daily reported.
The China Development Bank approved an emergency loan of 2 billion yuan (S$390million) for Wuhan to provide medical aid, emergency gear and expenses for epidemic prevention and control, according to a statement.
The People’s Liberation Army sent 450 medical personnel , including those who’ve had experience in fighting viral pandemics, to Wuhan to help out at local hospitals, according to the Xinhua News Agency. Health centres in Wuhan are struggling to treat hundreds of sick people, with many turned away from hospitals crammed with patients lying in packed corridors, the South China Morning Post reported.
The dramatic rise in the death count in China signals the virus isn’t yet under control despite aggressive steps by authorities there to limit movement for millions of people who live in cities near the center of the outbreak. The restrictions come during the Chinese New Year, the country’s biggest celebration during which billions of trips are typically taken for vacation and visiting of family.
Those limits expanded on Saturday as the government banned all outgoing overseas group tours as of Monday after suspending domestic group tours on Friday. Beijing also will prohibit buses from entering and leaving the city from Sunday.
While movement from Wuhan, the epicentre of the outbreak, and nearby areas has been limited, thousands of people left the region for other points before the bans took effect. In the US, two cases have been confirmed in people who returned from China. Europe’s first cases were identified in France, while Singapore, Australia, Malaysia, Pakistan and Nepal also reported infections.
Scientists around the globe have been working to understand the virus better, how contagious it is and where it comes from. First detected in Wuhan last month, it has sparked fears that the disease could rival Sars, the pandemic that claimed almost 800 lives 17 years ago .
GLOBAL CASES Australia on Saturday reported four confirmed cases in the states of New South Wales and Victoria. Three had travelled to China, while one was a Wuhan man who flew into Melbourne on Jan 19.
The cases in Malaysia were a woman and her two grandchildren – Chinese nationals from Wuhan – who had travelled from Singapore. They are related to a 66-year-old man and and his son who had tested positive for the virus in Singapore.
In a separate case announced late Saturday, a 40-year-old man and Wuhan native arrived in Malaysia from Singapore by bus with a 17-member tour group. The health ministry is monitoring the group, CCTV reported.
Hong Kong raised its response against the coronavirus to the highest “emergency” level and cancelled the city’s largest marathon which would have involved 70,000 in early February.
In China, a doctor suspected of having the coronavirus died on Saturday in Hubei, according to local media. It’s not immediately clear if the 62-year-old specialist was working on the front lines to treat the illness.
Beyond the restricted areas near Wuhan, major closures took place across the country amid the health fears. Public events to mark the new year were cancelled. Shanghai Disneyland announced that it was closing indefinitely, cinema chains cancelled movie screenings and Starbucks shut several outlets. The halt to activity comes during what is usually a peak period for spending.
IMPACT ON BUSINESS AND TRAVEL France’s Health Ministry confirmed three cases of the coronavirus late Friday, the first reported infections in Europe. French officials are planning to evacuate nationals trapped by China’s lockdown, sending them by bus to a neighbouring province, the South China Morning Post reported, citing an email.
In the US, two cases have been reported and health authorities are monitoring more than 60 people for potential infection. US lawmakers said health authorities are expected to confirm a third case, following a closed-door briefing between lawmakers in Washington and federal health officials.
The virus is believed to have emerged last month in a seafood and wildlife market in Wuhan, spreading from infected animals to humans, and police have raided wildlife markets across eastern China. It has an incubation period of about two weeks before infected people start to show symptoms, which resemble a cold or flu, the US Centers for Disease Control said.
The CDC said it’s working to get tests for the virus out to states so they can more quickly identify cases. Currently, samples have to be sent to the CDC for analysis.
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