China Death Toll Rises, US Preps Evac. 01/26 09:23
A new viral illness being watched with a wary eye around the globe
accelerated its spread in China on Sunday with 56 deaths so far, while the U.S.
Consulate in the city at the epicenter announced it will evacuate its personnel
and some private citizens aboard a charter flight.
BEIJING (AP) -- A new viral illness being watched with a wary eye around the
globe accelerated its spread in China on Sunday with 56 deaths so far, while
the U.S. Consulate in the city at the epicenter announced it will evacuate its
personnel and some private citizens aboard a charter flight.
China's health minister said the country was entering a "crucial stage" as
"it seems like the ability of the virus to spread is getting stronger."
Ma Xiaowei declined to estimate how long it would take to bring the
situation under control, but said travel restrictions and other strict measures
should bring results "at the lowest cost and fastest speed."
President Xi Jinping has called the outbreak a grave situation and said the
government was stepping up efforts to restrict travel and public gatherings
while rushing medical staff and supplies to the city at the center of the
crisis, Wuhan, which remains on lockdown with no flights, trains or buses in or
The epidemic has revived memories of the SARS outbreak that originated in
China and killed nearly 800 as it spread around the world in 2002 and 2003. Its
spread has come amid China's busiest travel period of the year, when millions
crisscross the country or head abroad for the Lunar New Year holiday.
The latest figures reported Sunday morning cover the previous 24 hours and
mark an increase of 15 deaths and 688 cases for a total of 1,975 infections.
The government also reported five cases in Hong Kong and two in Macao. Small
numbers of cases have been found in Thailand, Taiwan Japan, South Korea, the
U.S., Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia, Nepal, France and Australia.
The U.S. has confirmed cases in Washington state, Chicago, and most recently
Southern California. Canada said it discovered its first case, a man in his 50s
who was in Wuhan before flying to Toronto. Taiwan, Singapore and South Korea
each reported one new case Sunday, while Thailand reported three new cases.
A notice from the U.S. Embassy in Beijing said there would be limited
capacity to transport U.S. citizens on a Tuesday flight from Wuhan that will
proceed directly to San Francisco. It said that in the event there are not
enough seats, priority will be given to to individuals "at greater risk from
The French Consulate also was considering an evacuation of its nationals
from the city. It said it's working on arranging a bus service to help French
citizens leave Wuhan.
French automaker PSA Group said it will evacuate its employees from Wuhan,
quarantine them and then bring them to France.
Japan was also making preparations to fly its nationals out of Wuhan.
Chinese travel agencies have been told to halt all group tours, and concern
is growing over the potential impact of millions of people traveling back to
the cities after the Lunar New Year holiday ends on Thursday.
China's National Health Commission said anyone traveling from Wuhan is now
required to register with community health stations and quarantine themselves
at home for 14 days --- the virus' maximum incubation period.
Beijing has decided to delay the start of classes after the Lunar New Year
holiday ends, the official Beijing Daily reported on its website. That will
extend to all schools in the capital from kindergartens to universities.
Hong Kong announced similar measures on Saturday and on Sunday two of that
territory's biggest attractions, Hong Kong Disneyland and Ocean Park, announced
they were closing for the time being.
A proposal to possibly quarantine suspected cases and others at a
still-unoccupied public housing complex in the Hong Kong suburb of Fanling
sparked a protest by area residents. Though largely peaceful, they were joined
by black-clad protesters like those who have clashed with police during months
of anti-government protests and those protesters set a fire in the lobby of one
of the buildings.
The fire was extinguished without appearing to cause major damage. Police
later moved in n to disperse the group, using pepper spray on occasion.
In the heart of the outbreak where 11 million residents are already on
lockdown, Wuhan banned most vehicle use, including private cars, in downtown
areas starting Sunday. The city will assign 6,000 taxis to neighborhoods to
help people get around if they need to.
China cut off trains, planes and other links to the city Jan. 22, and has
steadily expanded the lockdown to 16 surrounding cities with a combined
population of more than 50 million --- greater than that of New York, London,
Paris and Moscow combined.
Wuhan is building two makeshift hospitals with about 1,000 beds each to
handle the growing number of patients. The city has said the first is expected
to be completed Feb. 3.
Medical workers in Wuhan have been among those infected and local media
reported a doctor died on Saturday morning. The 62-year-old physician was
hospitalized on Jan. 18 and died a week later.
Xinhua also said medical supplies are being rushed to the city, including
14,000 protective suits, 110,000 pairs of gloves and masks and goggles.
Videos have circulated online showing throngs of frantic people in masks
lined up for examinations and there have been complaints that family members
had been turned away at hospitals that were at capacity.
The National Health Commission said it is bringing in medical teams to help
handle the outbreak and the Chinese military dispatched 450 medical staff, some
with experience in past outbreaks, including SARS and Ebola, Xinhua reported.
The new virus comes from a large family of what are known as coronaviruses,
some causing nothing worse than a cold. It causes cold- and flu-like symptoms,
including cough and fever, and in more severe cases, shortness of breath. It
can worsen to pneumonia, which can be fatal.
First detected last month, the virus is believed to have originated in a
type of wild animal sold at a Wuhan market to be consumed as food.
Chinese authorities announced a temporary ban on the trade of wild animals
Sunday, saying they will "severely investigate and punish" violators. They also
called on the public to refrain from eating wild animal meat.
Investigators are closely observing whether the virus was mutating, but thus
far found "no obvious signs," that it is doing so, head of the Chinese Center
for Disease Control, Gao Fu, told reporters.
That could make it easier to develop vaccines against the virus, something
the center is already working on. Xinhua quoted center official Xu Wenbo as
saying the they had isolated the virus and were identifying seed strain.
The rapid increase in reported deaths and illnesses does not necessarily
mean the crisis is getting worse but could reflect better monitoring and
reporting of the virus. Those killed by the virus have mostly been middle-aged
or elderly people, sometimes suffering from other conditions that weaken their
ability to fight back.
It is not clear how lethal the new coronavirus is or even whether it is as
dangerous as the ordinary flu, which kills tens of thousands of people every
year in the U.S. alone.