Number infected by Wuhan virus rises to nearly 6,000 in China; death toll at 132

BEIJING (XINHUA) – China’s National Health Commission said yesterday the death toll from the coronavirus outbreak in the country had risen to 132 – with 26 new deaths – as of end-Tuesday, with another 1,459 new cases confirmed.

The total number of confirmed coronavirus cases in China stands at 5,974, the authority said in a statement.

The health body said they were also monitoring more than 9,000 suspected cases of the virus. The spike in numbers comes even as Beijing reiterated its confidence in containing the disease.

Fears of the spreading virus led airlines to reduce flights to China and global companies to restrict employee travel to the country. CNBC reported that the White House had told United States (US) airlines it may suspend all China-US flights due to the outbreak.

The new figures came as Japan airlifted about 200 of its nationals out of the city, and the US evacuated about 240 Americans by air.

People line up to buy face masks at a drug store in Nanjing in eastern China’s Jiangsu Province yesterday. PHOTO: AP

More than 50 million people have been locked down in and around Wuhan, the central industrial city where the outbreak first began, in a bid by authorities to stop an infection that has since spread to other cities in China and to other countries.

The flu-like virus has spread overseas to more than a dozen countries. None of the confirmed deaths to date has been outside China. However, confirmations of person-to-person transmission in Germany, Vietnam, Taiwan and Japan – as opposed to a traveller from China – has heightened concern.

Known as 2019-nCoV, the newly identified coronavirus can cause pneumonia and, like other respiratory infections, it spreads between people in droplets from coughs and sneezes. It is too early to know what its death rate will be, since there are likely to be many cases of milder disease going undetected.

“The virus is a devil and we cannot let the devil hide,” state television quoted Chinese President Xi Jinping as saying during a meeting with World Health Organization (WHO) Chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in Beijing on Tuesday.

“China will strengthen international cooperation and welcomes the WHO participation in virus prevention…China is confident of winning the battle against the virus.”

China’s assurances failed to calm investors, however, as health authorities around the world continued to step up efforts to stop the virus from spreading on their shores.

The US said it was expanding screening of arrivals from China from five to 20 airports and would consider imposing further travel curbs.

“All options for dealing with infectious disease spread have to be on the table, including travel restrictions,” said US Health Secretary Alex Azar.

From France to Japan, governments were organising evacuations, while Hong Kong planned to suspend rail and ferry links with the mainland.

United Airlines said it was suspending some flights between the US and China for a week from February 1 due to a “significant decline in demand”.

The European Commission said it would help fund two aircraft to fly EU citizens home, with 250 French nationals leaving on the first flight.