China virus toll hits 41; Australia reports first four cases
The death toll from China’s coronavirus outbreak jumped to 41 as the Lunar New Year got off to a gloomy start on Saturday, with Hong Kong declaring a virus emergency, scrapping celebrations, and restricting links to mainland China, Trend reports citing Reuters.
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 United States is arranging a charter flight on Sunday to bring its citizens and diplomats back from Wuhan, the central Chinese city that is the epicenter of the outbreak, the Wall Street Journal reported.
In Hong Kong, with five confirmed cases, the city’s leader Carrie Lam said flights and high speed rail trips between the city and Wuhan will be halted. Schools in Hong Kong that are currently on Lunar New Year holidays will remain closed until Feb. 17.
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 paralyzing a city of 11 million that has been on virtual lockdown since Thursday, with nearly all flights canceled 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.
Australia confirmed its first four cases in two different cities on Saturday, and the country’s chief health official said he expected more cases as Australia is a popular destination for Chinese tourists.