The death toll from China’s coronavirus outbreak jumped to 41 as the Lunar New Year got off to a gloomy start on Saturday.
Australia on Saturday confirmed its first four cases, Malaysia confirmed three and France reported Europe’s first cases on Friday, as health authorities around the world scrambled to prevent a pandemic.
The U.S. is arranging a charter flight on Sunday to bring its citizens and diplomats back from Wuhan, the central Chinese city that is the epicentre of the outbreak, the Wall Street Journal reported.
Xi holds meeting
China’s President Xi Jinping, saying the country is facing a grave situation, held a politburo meeting on measures to fight the outbreak, state television reported on Saturday. The death toll in China has risen to 41, authorities reported on Saturday, from 26 a day earlier. More than 1,300 people have been infected globally, most of them in China, with the virus traced to a seafood market in Wuhan that was illegally selling wildlife.
Hu Yinghai, deputy director-general of the Civil Affairs Department in Hubei province, where Wuhan is located, appealed for masks and protective suits. “We are steadily pushing forward the disease control and prevention… But right now we are facing an extremely severe public health crisis,” he told a news briefing.
Vehicles carrying emergency supplies and medical staff for Wuhan would be exempted from tolls and given traffic priority, China’s Transportation Ministry said on Saturday.
Wuhan said it would ban non-essential vehicles from its downtown starting Sunday, further paralysing a city of 11 million that has been on virtual lockdown since Thursday, with nearly all flights cancelled and checkpoints blocking the main roads leading out of town.
Authorities have since imposed transport restrictions on nearly all of Hubei province, which has a population of 59 million.
The newly-identified coronavirus has created alarm because there are still many unknowns surrounding it, such as how dangerous it is and how easily it spreads between people. It can cause pneumonia, which has been deadly in some cases.
In Australia, three men, aged 53, 43 and 35 in New South Wales were in stable condition after they were confirmed to have the virus after returning from Wuhan earlier this month.
A Chinese national in his 50s, who had been in Wuhan, was also in stable condition in a Melbourne hospital after arriving from China on January 19, Victoria Health officials said.
State-run China Global Television Network reported in a tweet on Saturday that a doctor who had been treating patients in Wuhan, 62-year-old Liang Wudong, had died from the virus. It was not immediately clear if his death was already counted in the official toll of 41, of which 39 were in Hubei. U.S. coffee chain Starbucks said on Saturday that it was closing all its outlets in Hubei for the week-long Lunar New Year holiday, following a similar move by McDonald’s in five Hubei cities.
In Beijing on Saturday, workers in white protective suits checked temperatures of passengers entering the subway at the central railway station, while some train services in eastern China’s Yangtze River Delta region were suspended, the local railway operator said.
The number of confirmed cases in China stands at 1,287. The virus has also been detected in Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Nepal, and the United States. There are fears the transmission could accelerate as hundreds of millions of Chinese travel during the Lunar New Year holiday, although many have cancelled their plans.