BEIJING (Agencies): The death toll from the coronavirus outbreak in China rose to 132 as health authorities at the epicentre of the epidemic reported another 840 confirmed cases, even as Beijing reiterated its confidence in containing the disease.
The number of people confirmed to be infected in China’s viral outbreak soared to 5,974 on Wednesday (Jan 29), the national health commission said.
The health body said they were also monitoring more than 9,000 suspected cases of the virus..
Fears of the spreading virus led airlines to reduce flights to China and global companies to restrict employee travel to the country.
The Hubei province health authority said in a statement early Wednesday (Jan 29) that 25 further people had died as of end-Tuesday.
The virus emerged late last year in Wuhan, Hubei’s capital and a major transportation hub, and much of the province has been under virtual lockdown as China seeks to contain the virus from spreading further.
With Hubei’s latest figures, the total number of confirmed cases in China surpasses that of the Sars epidemic in 2003, which infected 5,327 people in China and infected over 8,000 people worldwide.
The flu-like virus has spread overseas to more than a dozen countries.
None of the confirmed deaths to date has been outside China.
However, confirmations of person-to-person transmission in Germany, Vietnam, Taiwan and Japan – as opposed to a traveller from China – has heightened concern.
Known as “2019-nCoV”, the newly identified coronavirus can cause pneumonia and, like other respiratory infections, it spreads between people in droplets from coughs and sneezes.
It is too early to know what its death rate will be, since there are likely to be many cases of milder disease going undetected.
“The virus is a devil and we cannot let the devil hide, ” state television quoted Chinese President Xi Jinping during a meeting with World Health Organization (WHO) chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in Beijing on Tuesday.
“China will strengthen international cooperation and welcomes the WHO participation in virus prevention... China is confident of winning the battle against the virus.”
China’s assurances failed to calm investors, however, and health authorities around the world continued to step up efforts to stop the virus from spreading on their shores.
The United States said it was expanding screening of arrivals from China from five to 20 airports and would consider imposing further travel curbs.
“All options for dealing with infectious disease spread have to be on the table, including travel restrictions, ” said US Health Secretary Alex Azar.
The White House on Tuesday opted not to suspend flights from China to the United States as it discussed ways to deal with the outbreak, sources briefed on the matter told Reuters.
The Trump administration told US airlines after a meeting that it was not taking the step of cancelling flights, airline and government officials told Reuters.
The administration is holding daily meetings on the coronavirus and has considered a wide range of potential options.
From France to Japan, governments were organising evacuations, while Hong Kong – scene of anti-China unrest for months – planned to suspend rail and ferry links with the mainland.
United Airlines said it was suspending some flights between the United States and China for a week from Feb 1 due to a “significant decline in demand.”
The US Embassy in Beijing said a chartered plane would pick up its consular staff on Wednesday.
The European Commission said it would help fund two aircraft to fly EU citizens home, with 250 French nationals leaving on the first flight.
The Philippines will repatriate Filipinos who plan to leave Wuhan City and the rest of Hubei province. The Department of Foreign Affairs is making available flights from Hubei, it said in a statement. Upon arrival in the Philippines, Filipino repatriates will be subject to 14 days of mandatory quarantine, it said.
Australia will help some citizens leave Hubei province, and quarantine them on Christmas Island, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Wednesday following a briefing by the Chinese government.
Meanwhile, scientists in Australia successfully replicated the coronavirus, in what they said would be a "game changer" in the fight against a deadly epidemic which has stricken thousands.
China agreed that the World Health Organization (WHO) could send international experts to Wuhan as soon as possible to increase understanding of the coronavirus and guide the global response to the outbreak, the UN agency said on Tuesday.
An expert at China's National Health Commission (NHC) said on Tuesday that one week is sufficient for a recovery from mild coronavirus symptoms.
The virus could reach its peak in around 10 days, a top Chinese government expert said on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, a drug store in Beijing will be fined 3 million yuan (S$590,000) for hiking the price of face masks by almost six times the online price, the Beijing municipal market regulator said on Wednesday. - Reuters/AFP