Asia-Pacific

Chinese Coronavirus death toll rises to 41, with more than a thousand infected

Medical staff check the body temperature of passengers as they arrive at a railway station in Yingtan City, Jiangxi province, China, 22 January 2020. Source: AAP

In an attempt to contain the outbreak of the deadly coronavirus, China has extended a transport ban to 13 cities, affecting over 41 million people.

The number of confirmed deaths from a deadly viral outbreak in China has risen to 41, with authorities reporting 15 new fatalities and more than 1,000 people now infected.

All of the new deaths took place in the provincial capital of Wuhan, the city of 11 million where the deadly respiratory contagion first emerged, the Hubei Health Commission said.

Officials say they have now recorded almost 1,300 confirmed cases of infection.

Wuhan and 13 other cities in the province have been locked down in an unprecedented quarantine effort aimed at containing the deadly respiratory contagion, which has spread nationwide and to several other countries.

The virus has spread to densely populated South Asia, where Nepal confirmed one case.

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Empty market stalls as people stock up on supplies in Wuhan
Empty market stalls as people stock up on supplies in Wuhan

On Saturday morning, French officials confirmed two cases of the coronavirus have been "confirmed" - the first in Europe.

The first case involved a patient in a hospital in the southwestern city of Bordeaux while the other was in Paris, French Health Minister Agnes Buzyn said on Friday.

With more than a thousand confirmed cases in China, a range of Lunar New Year festivities have been cancelled, with temporary closures of Beijing's Forbidden City, Shanghai's Disneyland and a section of the Great Wall to prevent the disease from spreading further.

The previously unknown virus has caused alarm because of its similarity to SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), which killed hundreds across mainland China and Hong Kong in 2002-2003.

The Shanghai Disney Resorts says tickets will be refunded after the company decided to temporarily close in response to the coro
The Shanghai Disney Resorts says tickets will be refunded after the company decided to temporarily close in response to the coronavirus outbreak.
Shanghai Disney Resort

The World Health Organisation said China faced a national emergency but stopped short of declaring a global health emergency, which would have prompted greater global cooperation.

The outbreak emerged in late December in Wuhan, an industrial and transport hub of 11 million people in China's centre, spreading to several other countries including the United States.

A woman in Chicago in her sixties became the second patient on US soil, with 50 other suspected cases under investigation. The woman was doing well and was in stable condition, a city health official said on Friday.

The first case in South Asia was reported in Nepal on Friday. The 32-year-old male patient, who had arrived from Wuhan, was treated at a hospital in Kathmandu and discharged, officials said.

China is in the midst of its Lunar New Year holiday, a typically joyous time of family gatherings and public festivities.

But on Friday Wuhan was a ghost town, its streets deserted and stores shuttered.

Worried patients

As reports surfaced of bed shortages in Wuhan hospitals, state media said authorities were rushing to build a new facility devoted to the outbreak in a mind-blowing 10 days.

Hospitals visited by AFP journalists bustled as worried patients arrived to be screened by staff wearing full-body protective suits.

At a temperature-check station, a medical staffer in a white bodysuit, face mask and goggles took a thermometer from a middle-aged woman, pausing to examine the reading before quickly turning back to the patient.

"Have you registered? Then go and see the doctor," the staffer said.

One 35-year-old man voiced the fears of many.

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China's new SARS-like coronavirus explained
China's new SARS-like coronavirus explained

"I have a fever and cough, so I'm worried that I'm infected," he said, giving only his surname, Li.

"I don't know the results yet. I'm a bit worried."

With hundreds of millions of people on the move across China for the holiday, the government has halted all travel out of Wuhan, shut down public transport and told residents to stay home. Deepening the isolation, there were few flights available to the city.

"This year we have a very scary Chinese New Year. People are not going outside because of the virus," said a taxi driver in the city, who asked not to be named.

Passengers have their body temperature checked as they arrive at a railway station in Yingtan City, Jiangxi province.
Passengers have their body temperature checked as they arrive at a railway station in Yingtan City, Jiangxi province.
AAP

He was not concerned about potential food shortages in a prolonged shutdown.

"It's Chinese New Year and people have already bought a lot of things to cook at home for several days," he said.

But the pathogen, known by its technical name 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV), has caused nationwide alarm, with surgical masks selling out at many outlets in Shanghai, Beijing and other cities.

Battening the hatches

Besides Wuhan, 12 other smaller cities nearby have battened down the hatches.

Authorities in Xianning, Xiaogan, Enshi and Zhijiang cities - all located in Hubei province where the virus first emerged - said public transport services including train stations would be closed.

Jingzhou, a city of more than five million, on Friday shut down all rail services leaving the city as well as public buses and other transport.

Wuhan's straitjacket also further tightened, with authorities limiting the number of taxis allowed on roads beginning Friday. Leading Chinese ride-hailing service Didi Chuxing also said it was temporarily suspending Wuhan services.

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Chinese Australians cancel flights home as deadly coronavirus spreads
Chinese Australians cancel flights home as deadly coronavirus spreads

To discourage nationwide travel, the government also said all tickets for rail, air, road, or water transport could be exchanged for a refund.

Beijing has cancelled public events that usually attract throngs at temples during the New Year holiday, while the historic Forbidden City will close from Saturday.

On Friday, staff in full body protective suits were seen checking the temperatures of people entering a subway station in Beijing.

'Work as one'

Chinese authorities said the number of cases leapt overnight to more than 800, with 177 in serious condition. Authorities were also examining 1,072 suspected cases.

Beijing has been praised for its response, in contrast to SARS, when it took months to report the disease and initially denied WHO experts any access.

The strict measures in and around Wuhan are aimed at reducing the number of new cases coming out of the epicentre "to zero", said Gao Fu, head of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Speaking on state television on Thursday, he asked citizens to forego New Year gatherings and confine themselves at home until all is clear.

"If we all work as one, we can contain the virus in Wuhan and add no more cases exported from Wuhan, so as to stem the virus nationwide," Gao said.

China also on Friday confirmed the second virus death outside the Wuhan region, saying a patient died in Heilongjiang province, 2,000 kilometres (1,200 miles) to the northeast.

Shanghai Disneyland said it would close for an indefinite period beginning Saturday "in order to ensure the health and safety of our guests and cast."

With AFP, AAP...

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