Coronavirus deaths in China rise to 106 as U.S., others move to evacuate

Hong Kong’s leader has announced that all rail links to mainland China will be cut starting Friday as fears grow about the spread of the new coronavirus. Both the high-speed rail station and the regular train station will be closed, Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam said on Tuesday.

The move comes as the death toll from the virus in China rose by 25 to at least 106 and the United States and other governments prepared to fly their citizens out of Wuhan, the locked-down city at the centre of the outbreak.

The total includes the first death in Beijing, the Chinese capital, and 24 more fatalities in Hubei province, where the first illnesses from the newly identified coronavirus occurred in December.

China’s increasingly drastic containment efforts began with the suspension of plane, train and bus links to Wuhan, a city of 11 million people. That lockdown has expanded to 17 cities with more than 50 million people in the most far-reaching disease-control measures ever imposed.

The U.S. Consulate in Wuhan, where authorities cut off most access Jan. 22 in an effort to contain the disease, was preparing to fly its diplomats and some other Americans out of the city. Japan, France, Mongolia and other governments also planned evacuations.

China extended the Lunar New Year holiday by three days to Sunday to reduce the risk of infection by keeping offices and factories nationwide closed and the public at home. The government of Shanghai, a global business centre and home to 25 million people, extended the holiday in that city by an additional week to Feb. 9.

The government has sent 6,000 extra medical workers to Wuhan from across China, including 1,800 who were due to arrive Tuesday, a commission official, Jiao Yahui, said at a news conference.

Wuhan is building two hospitals, one with 1,500 beds and another with 1,000, for the growing number of patients. The first is scheduled to be finished next week.

WATCH | China says new coronavirus hospital in Wuhan will be ready by Feb. 3 

Contractors in China say the new hospital designed for coronavirus patients is scheduled to be ready by Feb. 3.   0:32

Global Affairs Canada has advised Canadians to avoid all travel to Hubei province, including the cities of Wuhan, Huanggang and Ezhou. 

U.S. health officials expanded their recommendation for people to avoid non-essential travel to any part of China, rather than just Hubei province.  

Mongolia closed its vast border with China and North Korea said it was strengthening quarantine measures. Hong Kong and Malaysia are barring visitors from Hubei. Chinese travel agencies were ordered to cancel group tours nationwide.

There were 1,771 new cases confirmed in China on Monday, raising the national total to 4,515, according to the National Health Commission. It said 976 people were in serious condition.

WATCH | Outcry in China as coronavirus crisis grows:

As the death toll from the coronavirus increases, officials are trying to stem the public outcry over what some see as mishandling of the ongoing crisis. 2:08

Also Tuesday, the Education Ministry cancelled English-proficiency and other tests for students to apply to foreign universities. The ministry said the new semester for public schools and universities following Lunar New Year was postponed until further notice.

In addition to the transportation restrictions with mainland China, Hong Kong officials announced some government offices would remain closed until at least Monday and non-essential public employees were allowed to work from home.

Beijing’s official response has “vastly improved” since the 2002-03 SARS outbreak, which also originated in China, but “fears of a global contagion are not put to bed,” said Vishnu Varathan at Mizuho Bank in Singapore.

Scientists are concerned about the new virus because it is closely related to other diseases including SARS, which killed nearly 800 people.

So far, the new coronavirus doesn’t seem to spread as easily among people as SARS or influenza. Most of the cases that spread between people were of family members and health workers who had contact with patients. That suggests the new virus isn’t well adapted to infect people.

Germany confirms 1st case

China has reported eight cases in Hong Kong and five in Macao, and more than 45 cases have been confirmed elsewhere in the world. Almost all involve mainland Chinese tourists or people who visited Wuhan.

Germany confirmed its first case late Monday. Infections also have been confirmed in the United States, Thailand, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia, Nepal, France, Australia, Sri Lanka and Canada. 

Two cases of coronavirus have been reported in Canada, both in Toronto. They are a 50-year-old man and his wife who had travelled to Wuhan. The husband, whose case has been confirmed by Canada’s National Microbiology Lab, is being treated in hospital and is in stable condition. His wife, whose case was still considered “presumptive” pending confirmation by the lab, was at home in isolation and was “asymptomatic” as of Monday, according to health officials in Toronto.  

The five American cases — two in southern California and one each in Washington state, Chicago and Arizona — are people who had recently arrived from central China. Health officials said they had no evidence the virus was spreading in the United States and they believe the risk to Americans remains low.

During the SARS outbreak, Chinese authorities were criticized for reacting slowly and failing to disclose information. The government has responded more aggressively to the latest outbreak.

Infectious disease expert Dr. Allison McGeer tells The National who’s the most vulnerable and what precautions are necessary during the coronavirus outbreak. 4:45

The coronavirus family includes the common cold but also more severe illnesses such as SARS and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome. The new virus causes cold- and flu-like symptoms, including cough and fever, and in more severe cases, shortness of breath and pneumonia.

The virus is thought to have spread to people from wild animals sold at a Wuhan market. China on Sunday banned trade in wild animals and urged people to stop eating meat from them.

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