China death toll reaches 259; WHO warns countries to prepare
BEIJING (AP) — China’s death toll from a new virus rose to 259 on Saturday and a World Health Organization official said other governments need to prepare for“domestic outbreak control” if the disease spreads in their countries.
Beijing criticized Washington’s order barring entry to most foreigners who visited China in the past two weeks.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced similar measures Saturday, following Japan and Singapore.
South Korea and India flew hundreds of their citizens out of Wuhan, the city at the center of an area where some 50 million people are prevented from leaving in a sweeping anti-virus effort. The evacuees went into a two-week quarantine. Indonesia also sent a plane.
The number of confirmed cases in China rose to 11,791, surpassing the number in the 2002-03 outbreak of SARS, or Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome. The virus’ rapid spread in two months prompted the World Health Organization on Thursday to declare it a global emergency.
That declaration “flipped the switch” from a cautious attitude to recommending governments prepare for the possibility the virus might spread, said the WHO representative in Beijing, Gauden Galea. Most cases reported so far have been people who visited China or their family members.
The agency acted out of concern for poorer countries that might not be equipped to respond, said Galea. Such a declaration calls for a coordinated international response and can bring more money and resources.
WHO said it was especially concerned that some cases abroad involved human-to-human transmission.
“Countries need to get ready for possible importation in order to identify cases as early as possible and in order to be ready for a domestic outbreak control, if that happens,” Galea told The Associated Press.
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On Friday, the United States declared a public health emergency and President Donald Trump signed an order barring entry to foreign nationals who visited China within the last 14 days, which scientists say is the virus' longest incubation period. The restrictions don't apply to immediate family of American citizens and permanent residents.
China criticized the U.S. controls and “unfriendly comments” that Beijing was failing to cooperate.
“Just as the WHO recommended against travel restrictions, the U.S. rushed to go in the opposite way. Certainly not a gesture of goodwill,” said foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying.
WHO Secretary-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that despite the emergency declaration, there is “no reason for measures that unnecessarily interfere with international travel and trade.”
Meanwhile, the ruling Communist Party postponed the end of the Lunar New Year holiday in Hubei province, where Wuhan is located, for an unspecified “appropriate extent” and appealed to people there to stay home.
Another locked-down city in Hubei, Huanggang, on Saturday banned almost all residents from leaving their homes in the most stringent controls imposed yet. The government said only one person from each household would be allowed out to shop for food once every two days.
“Others are not allowed to go out except for medical treatment, to do epidemic prevention and control work or to work in supermarkets and pharmacies,” it said in an announcement.
China’s anti-disease controls started with the Jan. 23 suspension of plane, bus and train links to Wuhan, an industrial center of 11 million people. The lockdown has spread to surrounding cities.
The holiday, China's busiest annual travel season, ends Sunday in the rest of the country following a three-day extension to postpone the return to factories and offices by hundreds of millions of workers. The official Xinhua News Agency said people in Hubei who work outside the province also were given an extended holiday.
The party decision “highlighted the importance of prevention and control of the epidemic among travelers,” Xinhua said.
Americans returning from China will be allowed into the country, but will face screening. Those returning from Hubei province will be subject to a 14-day quarantine.
Beginning Sunday, the United States will direct flights from China to seven major airports where passengers can be screened.
Delta Air Lines said Saturday that it was accelerating plans to suspend fights between the United States and China. Delta's last flight from China will leave Sunday, the airline said. It had planned to end flights on Thursday.
Other carriers including American Airlines, British Airways, Finnair and Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific also have canceled or cut back service to mainland China. Vietnam suspended all flights to China.
The U.S. order followed a travel advisory for Americans to consider leaving China. Japan and Germany also advised against nonessential travel to China. Britain did as well, except for Hong Kong and Macao.
A plane carrying Indians from Wuhan landed Saturday in New Delhi. The government said they would be quarantined in nearby Manesar. Sri Lanka also pulled out 33 more of its citizens and promised to bring back the remaining 204 students.
A special flight brought 312 Bangladeshis back from Wuhan, including eight who were hospitalized with high temperatures. The government says about 5,000 Bangladeshis study in China.
A Turkish military transport carrying 42 people left Wuhan for Ankara. They reportedly showed no signs of infection.
The Kremlin said Russia would use its air force planes to evacuate Russians from areas of China most seriously affected by the virus.
Germany's defense minister said a plane taking 102 citizens back to Germany was refused permission to land and refuel in Moscow due to what the Russians said was lack of capacity and had to divert to Helsinki.
An EU evacuation flight from Wuhan was scheduled for Saturday.
South Korea's second evacuation flight landed in Seoul with 330 people from Wuhan. They were to be screened for fever before being taken to two quarantine centers.
South Korea also reported its 12th virus case, which appeared to be a human-to-human transmission.
At least 24 countries have reported cases since China informed WHO about the new virus in late December.
The death rate in China is falling, but the number of confirmed cases will keep growing because thousands of specimens from suspected cases have yet to be tested, WHO's Galea said.
“The case fatality ratio is settling out at a much lower level than we were reporting three, now four, weeks ago,” he said.
Both the new virus and SARS are from the coronavirus family, which also includes those that cause the common cold.
Although scientists expect to see limited transmission of the virus between people with family or other close contact, they are concerned about cases of infection spreading to people who might have less exposure.
In Japan, a tour guide and bus driver became infected after escorting two groups from Wuhan. The country reported four new cases, including a woman in her 20s who worked on the same tour bus, and another person who was asymptomatic, for a total of 20.
In Germany, five employees of an auto parts supplier became ill after a Chinese colleague visited, including two who had no direct contact with the woman. She showed no symptoms until her flight back to China. On Friday, Germany confirmed a sixth case, a child of one of the people already infected.
The United Arab Emirates confirmed its fifth infection, Vietnam its sixth and Australia its ninth.
Spain reported its first case, a German man who had close contact with an infected person in Germany and then traveled to the Canary Islands with friends. Four friends who were hospitalized with him have not shown symptoms.
In the United States, health officials issued a two-week quarantine order for 195 Americans evacuated this week from Wuhan.
It was the first time a federal quarantine has been ordered since the 1960s, when one was enacted over concern about smallpox, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.
None of the Americans being housed at a Southern California military base has shown signs of illness.
Associated Press writers Aniruddha Ghosal in New Delhi, Tong-hyung Kim in Seoul, South Korea, Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo, Hau Dinh in Hanoi, Vietnam, Niniek Karmini in Jakarta, Indonesia, and Bharatha Mallawarachi in Colombo, Sri Lanka, contributed to this report.