Countries around the world step up efforts to tackle the new coronavirus that has killed hundreds of thousands.
China has locked down 18 cities at the hub of a new coronavirus outbreak that has killed 41 people and infected at least 1,300, as health authorities around the world are taking action to prevent a global pandemic.
The lockdowns on new cities affect more than 56 million people.
The World Health Organization (WHO) acknowledged that the respiratory illness is an emergency in China, but said it was too early to declare it a global one.
Health officials fear the transmission rate will accelerate as hundreds of millions of Chinese travel at home and abroad during week-long holidays for the Lunar New Year, which begins on Saturday.
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AirAsia, one of the leading regional airlines in Asia, cancelled on Friday all flights to and from the city of Wuhan, following the Chinese government’s decision to put the city under lockdown.
“The move is meant to assist in controlling the current Wuhan novel coronavirus outbreak situation and comply with Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) requirements,” the airline said in a statement.
According to Reuters, at least 10 cities around Wuhan have also been placed on lockdown, as the government attempts to stop the spread of the disease.
Meanwhile, Shanghai Disneyland also announced that it was temporarily suspending operations over concerns of the virus.
The number of cases of patients infected with the new coronavirus as of January 23 has gone up to 830, while the death toll from the virus has risen to 26, the National Health Commission announced on Friday.
The virus originated in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in Hubei late last year and has spread to other Chinese cities including Beijing and Shanghai, as well as the United States, Thailand, South Korea and Japan.
Earlier on Friday, Japan confirmed a second case of coronavirus.
Meanwhile, another city near Wuhan halted transport on Friday and closed its river bridge as the country escalates efforts to contain the disease.
Huangshi city in Hubei province announced that transport routes and a ferry terminal were shut down starting at 0200 GMT on Friday.
In all, at least 10 cities have already been ordered on lockdown.
Singapore’s prime minister said on Friday that the city-state was well prepared to tackle the Wuhan coronavirus, adding that it did not appear to be as deadly as the 2003 Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) pandemic.
On Thursday, Singapore confirmed its first case of the coronavirus strain, which originated in China, and said another case has preliminarily tested positive.
Singapore suffered 33 deaths due to SARS, making it one of the worst-hit countries outside China.
“We are well prepared because we have been gearing up for such a situation ever since we dealt with SARS in 2003,” Lee Hsien Loong said in an annual Chinese New Year speech.
“MOH (Ministry of Health) has now activated plans to counter the spread of the virus, which so far does not appear to be as deadly as SARS was.”
Japan has confirmed its second case of infection by the new coronavirus from China, the health ministry said on Friday.
The infection was confirmed in a man in his 40s who lives in Wuhan – the Chinese city at the centre of the outbreak – and travelled to Japan, the health ministry said in a statement.
The man, who arrived in Japan on Sunday, is currently hospitalised, the ministry said.
South Korea also confirmed on Friday the second case of coronavirus that originated from China, according to the country’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC).
Gilead Sciences Inc said it was assessing whether its experimental Ebola treatment could be used to treat coronavirus infection.
“Gilead is in active discussions with researchers and clinicians in the United States and China regarding the ongoing Wuhan coronavirus outbreak and the potential use of Remdesivir as an investigational treatment,” a company spokesman said in an emailed statement.
The company said there was no antiviral data on the drug that showed activity against the coronavirus that was identified in the central Chinese city of Wuhan. But testing in animals had shown that the drug was effective against the SARS coronavirus.
The World Health Organization (WHO) says a viral illness in China that has sickened hundreds of people is not yet a global health emergency.
The United Nations health agency announced the decision after independent experts spent two days assessing information about the spread of the newly identified coronavirus.
WHO defines a global emergency as an “extraordinary event” that constitutes a risk to other countries and requires a coordinated international response.
China’s Hebei provincial health authority said a patient infected with the new coronavirus has died, marking the first confirmed death outside Hubei province where the outbreak began.
The Health Commission of Hebei Province said in a statement that the patient, 80, died on Wednesday but was not confirmed to have been infected with the virus until Thursday.
The death toll from the outbreak now stands at 18.
China’s Huanggang, Xiantao and Ezhou cities have joined Wuhan in shutting down railway stations and suspending long-distance buses as well as ferry services, according to statements on the cities’ websites and state media.
Playgrounds in Xiantao have been closed, as have markets with live birds and entertainment venues.
The smaller city of Chibi said public transport and connections to other places would be suspended from midnight (16:00 GMT).
China’s Finance Ministry said it was allocating one billion yuan ($145m) in funding to the Hubei provincial government to help with efforts to contain the coronavirus outbreak.
Hubei has been the region hardest-hit by the outbreak, which began in the province’s capital, Wuhan.
Hong Kong confirmed two cases of the coronavirus and was “tracing the potential people who have had close contact with the patients”.
Acting Chief Executive Matthew Cheung Kin-chung said in a news conference that the Centre for Health Protection was investigating the matter.
He also said schools have been advised to postpone any trips to the mainland, where the infectious disease was first reported.
The US State Department warned travellers to exercise increased caution in China due to the coronavirus outbreak.
BREAKING: U.S. issues travel warning for China amid coronavirus outbreak and raises travel advisory level from 'exercise increased caution' to 'reconsider travel' https://t.co/lSEXgEWjO7
— CNBC Now (@CNBCnow) January 23, 2020
Singapore confirmed its first case the new coronavirus with the Ministry of Health (MOH) saying the patient was a 66-year-old man from Wuhan who arrived in Singapore with his family on Monday.
He was immediately isolated after arriving at a hospital with a fever and a cough, and test results later confirmed he was infected with the coronavirus.
One of his travelling companions, a 37-year-old man from Wuhan, has also been admitted to hospital as a suspected case.
Two Chinese nationals in Vietnam have tested positive for the coronavirus and are being treated in hospital, officials said.
A Chinese man living in Ho Chi Minh City was infected by his father who travelled to Vietnam on January 13 from the Chinese city of Wuhan.
The father was hospitalised on January 17 with a high fever, days before his son showed symptoms, health officials said.
The Chinese city of Wuhan, the core of a new coronavirus outbreak, will build a dedicated hospital to treat patients, which it aims to complete in six days, state media outlet Beijing News reported.
It cited an unnamed source at the construction company that will build it.
Wuhan residents called for help and shared worries of food shortages, with streets in the virus-hit central Chinese city deserted after it was put on lockdown.
Planes and trains out of the city were cancelled with public transport suspended and residents ordered not to leave in a bid to control the spread of the disease.
“I try my best to stay home and only come out to buy the necessary goods when needed,” a man surnamed Sun told AFP news agency from a small supermarket, which already had a few empty shelves.
The search term “Wuhan is sealed off” had been read more than 1.2 billion times on China’s Twitter-like Weibo platform with about 376,000 discussion posts.
One writer, a 26-year-old surnamed Mao, said: “I have not gone out of the house for around two days.”
He said last time he went out, surgical masks were selling for a higher-than-normal price of $7 each. After he bought some, the person behind him in the queue bought the remaining stock in the shop.
In an interview with the People’s Daily, the Wuhan Health Commission said there were long queues at fever treatment centres, as well as a “tight situation” in terms of beds available.
It said seven hospitals were being “fully utilised” with 3,000 beds set aside to treat suspected and confirmed cases.
The Renmin Hospital of Wuhan University issued an appeal for donations of masks and protective clothing to alumni.
The World Health Organization (WHO) said it will decide whether to declare the outbreak a global health emergency, which would step up the international response.
If it does so, it will be the sixth international public health emergency to be declared in the last decade.
“The lockdown of 11 million people is unprecedented in public health history, so it is certainly not a recommendation the WHO has made,” said Gauden Galea, the WHO’s representative in Beijing, of the quarantine of two major Chinese cities.
.@WHO Director-General @DrTedros is reconvening the Emergency Committee later today to continue deliberations on whether #nCoV2019 constitutes a public health emergency of international concern and recommendations to manage it.
— World Health Organization Western Pacific (@WHOWPRO) January 23, 2020
British public health officials have been carrying out enhanced screening of flights following the spread of the deadly new virus in China, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Matt Hancock confirmed.
Speaking in Parliament, Hancock said there were no confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United Kingdom so far.
However, in response to the virus’s spread in other countries, the UK’s chief medical officer revised the risk to the population in the UK from “very low” to “low”, with Hancock saying that while there was an increased likelihood that cases of coronavirus may arise, “we are well-prepared and well-equipped to deal with them”.
Three separate research teams will start work on developing potential vaccines against the new coronavirus that is causing a disease epidemic in China, a global coalition set up to fight diseases said.
The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), which is cofunding the emergency projects, said the plan was to have at least one potential vaccine in clinical trials by June.
“Our aspiration with these technologies is to bring a new pathogen from gene sequence to clinical testing in 16 weeks,” said Richard Hatchett, CEPI’s chief executive.
“There are no guarantees of success, but we hope this work could provide a significant and important step forward in developing a vaccine for this disease.”
Qatar‘s Ministry of Public Health issued national guidelines for dealing with new cases of coronavirus, alerting all hospitals in the country to report any suspected respiratory infections, especially in travellers returning from the affected countries within 14 days of their arrival.
The National Committee for Epidemiology approved the application of thermal examination at Hamad International Airport to all travellers coming from China.
The ministry also advised against unnecessary travel to avoid cities where the virus is present in China, to avoid close contact with animals in the affected areas and not to mix closely with people who show symptoms of respiratory infections, while continuing to wash hands with soap and water.
China’s capital city, Beijing, cancelled important public events including two well-known Lunar New Year temple fairs, the state-run Beijing News said, as authorities try to curb the spread of a deadly coronavirus outbreak.
Separately, the country’s railway operator, China State Railway Group, said passengers would be able to receive full refunds on tickets nationwide starting on Friday.