President Xi Jinping declared on Tuesday (Jan 28) that he was confident China would win the fight to overcome the current Sars-like epidemic, even as the number of deaths and infections skyrocketed overnight.
State television reported that in a meeting with visiting World Health Organisation chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, President Xi described the new Wuhan coronavirus as a “devil” and that “we cannot let the devil hide.”
The death toll in China has breached the 100-mark, up from 81 on Monday, while the number of people infected nearly doubled to 4,535 as the spread of the respiratory disease rapidly gained speed.
Fears are also growing worldwide that the virus is being transmitted locally. Three separate cases were reported in Germany, Japan and Taiwan of men with no travel history to China who fell ill after contact with infected persons.
More than 60 people in 17 countries and territories outside mainland China have come down with the virus, including new cases in Cambodia, Sri Lanka and Germany. Thailand has so far registered the highest number of infections outside of China with 14 patients.
Hong Kong has ratcheted up its emergency response to the highest level, announcing that it is shutting down the cross-border high-speed rail service and halving flights to and from the mainland. Tour buses and ferry links will also be reduced.
Beijing is also stopping to issue travel permits to Chinese travellers to Hong Kong, isolating the island further from the mainland after the Hong Kong government banned residents of Hubei province, the epicentre of the outbreak, from entering the territory on Monday.
“We have to start with the source,” chief executive Carrie Lam, wearing a surgical mask, told reporters on Tuesday. “This should greatly reduce visitors from China.” The newly announced measures will kick in on Thursday.
While a growing number of foreign governments scramble to evacuate their citizens from virus-stricken Wuhan and Hubei province, and global firms from Facebook to HSBC curb travel to China, WHO’s Dr Ghebreyesus has reportedly said there was no need to “overreact”.
Xinhua news agency also quoted him as saying that WHO did not recommend the evacuation of foreigners from China.
The United Nations health body has yet to declare the outbreak of the new Wuhan coronavirus as a global emergency, which would require a coordinated international response to the crisis.
Traditionally, the WHO seeks to promote cooperation and avoid antagonising countries it is helping, or it risks a reaction that could undermine its humanitarian work.
Chinese health officials, at a now-daily briefing, on Tuesday said that the incubation period of the coronavirus is typically between three and seven days.
People can be infected by touching contagious droplets and then touching their eyes, nose or mouth, they said.
Young people and infants can also be infected. An 11-month-old child was among the nearly 200 infected in southern Guangdong province.
China has deployed almost 6,000 medical workers from across the country to beleaguered Hubei province to bolster its overwhelmed medical facilities.
Meanwhile, Beijing has sanctioned a Danish newspaper after it published a satirical cartoon depicting the Chinese national flag with the coronavirus instead of the usual five golden stars.
A spokesman at the Chinese embassy in Copenhagen, in demanding an apology yesterday, denounced the cartoon as an “insult to China” and said it “hurts the feelings of the Chinese people”.
The newspaper has courted controversy before. In 2005 it published several cartoons mocking the Prophet Mohammad, igniting protests across the Muslim world that left at east 50 people dead.