Wuhan virus: China's death toll rises to 213, total confirmed cases hit 9,692

Medical staff in protective suits treat a patient with pneumonia caused by the new coronavirus at the Zhongnan Hospital of Wuhan University, in Wuhan on Jan 28, 2020. PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING (BLOOMBERG, REUTERS) - The number of people in China killed by the novel coronavirus rose to 213, and the World Health Organisation (WHO) called the outbreak a global health emergency, a signal that the spread of the sometimes-deadly pathogen shows no sign of abating.

Hubei, the province at the centre of the outbreak, reported 42 additional deaths from the novel coronavirus, bringing the death toll in the province to 204, according to a statement on Friday (Jan 31) from the Health Commission of Hubei Province.

The province also detected a further 1,220 cases by the end of Thursday, taking the total for the province alone to close to 6,000.

China's National Health Commission (NHC) said on Friday that the death toll from the coronavirus outbreak in the country rose to 213 as of end-Thursday, with another 1,982 new cases confirmed.

The total number of confirmed coronavirus cases in China reached 9,692 as of end-Thursday, the NHC said in a statement, up from about 7,700 a day earlier.

Nearly 100 cases have emerged in other countries, spurring cuts to travel, outbreaks of anti-China sentiment in some places, and a surge in demand for protective face masks

In the United States, health officials reported the first case of human-to-human transmission of the coronavirus, in a woman who travelled to China and then infected her husband.

The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention said the virus is not spreading widely and that the risk to the US public remains low.

WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus praised China's efforts to contain the outbreak, saying he had never seen a nation respond so aggressively to a disease, including building a new hospital in just 10 days.

"Let me be clear: This declaration is not a vote of no confidence in China," Dr Tedros said.

"On the contrary the WHO continues to have confidence in China's capacity to control the outbreak."

It's a contrast to the criticism China faced for a lack of transparency during the Sars pandemic 17 years ago, which killed almost 800 people.

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Dr Tedros said there is no need at this time for measures that interfere with travel and trade, even though many governments, airlines and businesses have already taken such steps. He also urged people to be careful of rumours and rushing to judgment.

"This is the time for facts not fear," he said. "This is the time for science not rumours. This is the time for solidarity not stigma."

In the past, the WHO came under fire for raising the alert too soon as well as too late. The last respiratory illness to trigger a health emergency was the flu pandemic of 2009, which caused widespread alarm but ended up being relatively mild.

The WHO's Emergency Committee, a group of infectious-disease experts, last week delayed a decision on whether to make the emergency declaration.

The WHO move will trigger tighter containment and information-sharing guidelines to all countries, but may disappoint Beijing, which had expressed confidence it can beat the "devil" virus.

China's UN ambassador, Mr Zhang Jun, said Beijing was assessing the declaration.

"We are still at a very critical stage in fighting the coronavirus. International solidarity is extremely important and for that purpose all countries should behave in a... responsible manner," Mr Zhang said.

European carriers led by British Airways said they're temporarily quitting China as the deadly coronavirus spreads, following decisions by US carriers to limit flights to the country.

BA took the most dramatic step, saying on Thursday that it will cease flights to Beijing and Shanghai until March 1 after acting on UK Foreign Office advice.

Iberia, its Spanish sister carrier at IAG SA, is also suspending operations, while Deutsche Lufthansa AG, Air France and SAS AB said they will exit China until Feb 9.

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