News World Coronavirus virus toll tops 100 as spread escalates

Coronavirus virus toll tops 100 as spread escalates

A medical worker attends to a patient in the intensive care unit at Zhongnan Hospital in Wuhan. Photo: Xinhua/Xiong Qi
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China has reported 25 more deaths from the lethal coronavirus, raising the total to at least 106, as the US government prepares to fly Americans out of the city at the centre of the outbreak.

Tuesday’s growing total includes the first death in Beijing, the Chinese capital, on Monday and 24 new deaths in Hubei province, where illnesses from the new virus surfaced in December, the government announced.

The US consulate in Wuhan, the city at the centre of the virus, was preparing to fly its diplomats and other Americans out of the city. Japan, France and Mongolia and other governments were also preparing evacuations.

Chinese authorities cut off most access to Wuhan from January 22 to try to contain the disease, trapping an estimated 400 Australians – including 100 children – in the city.

The federal government is under increasing pressure to bring the Australians home, but Health Minister Greg Hunt said on Tuesday only that Foreign Minister Marise Payne and department officials were making “significant progress” on a plan.

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

China extended the Lunar New Year holiday, the country’s busiest travel season, by three days to Sunday to keep people at home and reduce risks of the infection spreading.

US health officials expanded their recommendation for people to avoid non-essential travel to any part of China, rather than just Wuhan and other areas most affected by the outbreak.

Mongolia closed its vast border with China, and Hong Kong and Malaysia have barred visitors from Hubei province. Chinese travel agencies were ordered to cancel group tours nationwide.

There were 1771 new coronavirus cases confirmed on Monday, raising the national total to 4515, according to China’s National Health Commission. It said 976 were in serious condition.

Also Tuesday, the Education Ministry cancelled English-proficiency and other tests for students to apply to foreign universities. Public schools and universities have been ordered to postpone reopening following the Lunar New Year holiday until further notice.

Stock markets around the world were down sharply on Monday as investors worried the outbreak could hurt the global economy.

More than 45 cases have been confirmed elsewhere in the world. Almost all involve Chinese tourists or people who visited Wuhan.

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

There are five confirmed cases of the deadly virus in Australia: Four people are being treated in Sydney hospitals, while the fifth is in hospital in Melbourne.

On Tuesday morning, NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard on Tuesday morning said 10 people under investigation on Monday had been cleared but six new potential cases were being assessed.

“This will be, for some to come, an evolving situation,” Mr Hazzard said.

As of Monday, five Americans had been diagnosed with the virus in Washington state, Chicago, southern California and Arizona. All had recently travelled to central China.

US health officials said they had no evidence the virus was spreading there, and they believe the risk to Americans remains low.

China has also reported eight cases in Hong Kong and five in Macao.

The epidemic has revived memories of the SARS outbreak that originated in China and killed nearly 800 people. Then, Chinese authorities were criticised for reacting slowly and failing to disclose information. The government has responded more aggressively to the latest outbreak.

Wuhan is building two hospitals, one with 1500 beds and another with 1000, for the growing number of patients. The first will be finished next week.

The virus is from the coronavirus family that 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 market in Wuhan. On Sunday, authorities banned trade in wild animals and urged people to stop eating meat from them.

-with AAP