News World Toll surges as China agrees to allow in US health experts

Toll surges as China agrees to allow in US health experts

Cleaners wash the street with a high-pressure water gun during lockdown in Wuhan. Photo: Getty
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The global death toll from the coronavirus outbreak has risen to 427, with Chinese state media reporting the death of a 39-year-old man from Hong Kong who had been diagnosed with the virus.

The death is only the second known fatality outside mainland China, following the passing of another man in the Philippines.

The rest of the victims have perished in mainland China. The total number of cases now stands at 20,438, officials said on Tuesday.

Hong Kong was badly hit by Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), another coronavirus that emerged from China in 2002 and killed almost 800 people around the world, 299 of them  in Hong Kong.

Chinese data suggest the new virus, while much more contagious than SARS, is significantly less lethal, although such numbers can evolve rapidly.

Macau’s casino industry will close for two weeks to prevent the further spread of the coronavirus, the government says.

The lights will dim for two weeks in Macau, the world’s largest gambling hub. Photo: Getty

The chief executive of the former Portuguese colony, Ho Iat Seng, said on Tuesday that all casinos would halt operations, with public services and public transport also be scaled back, according to public broadcaster RTHK.

At a media briefing in the world’s biggest gambling hub, Ho appealed to the public to stay home during what he referred to as, “this critical time” and said people should only go out to buy food, according to RTHK.

The move to temporarily close casinos is set to make a substantial impact onthe gambling mecca. Macau, which derives 50 per cent of its economic revenue from the gaming tables, has 10 confirmed cases of the coronavirus.

Meanwhile, in Wuhan, authorities started converting a gymnasium, exhibition centre and cultural complex into makeshift hospitals with more than 3400 beds for patients suffering from mild cases of the infection, the official Changjiang Daily said.

China has agreed to allow US health experts into the country as part of a World Health Organisation (WHO) effort to help combat the fast-spreading coronavirus, as the number of cases and deaths continues to mount.

China had earlier accused the United States of spreading fear by pulling its citizens out and severely restricting travel.

In central China’s Hubei province, epicentre of the epidemic, Chinese state TV reported there were 2345 new cases of the virus and another 64 deaths, bringing the total of virus-related fatalities in Hubei to 414 by Monday.

The White House announced on Monday China had accepted its offer to have US experts as part of a WHO mission to study and help combat the virus that emerged in Hubei’s provincial capital of Wuhan.

A 1000-bed hospital built in eight days to treat people with the virus in Wuhan was due to receive its first patients on Monday, state media said. A second hospital with 1600 beds is due to be operational later this week.

With Wuhan and some other Chinese cities in virtual lockdown, travel severely restricted and China facing increasing international isolation, fears of wider economic disruption are growing. Sources at the OPEC oil cartel told Reuters producers were considering cutting output by almost a third to support prices.

The WHO last week declared the flu-like virus a global emergency. It has spread to 23 other countries and regions.

Airlines around the world have stopped flights to parts of China. A suspension by the United Arab Emirates on Monday will affect the Gulf airlines Etihad and Emirates.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defended the measures taken by the United States, including suspending the entry of foreign nationals who had visited China within the past 14 days.

The outbreak is reminiscent of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), a virus from the same family that emerged in China in 2002 and killed almost 800 people around the world out of the roughly 8000 who were infected.

Chinese data suggests the new virus, while much more contagious than SARS, is significantly less lethal, although such numbers can evolve rapidly. Prior to the latest figures from Hubei, the number of confirmed infections in China stood at 17,205.

The WHO said at least 151 cases had been confirmed in 23 other countries and regions, including Japan, Thailand, Germany, Britain and the United States, which on Monday reported its second case of person-to-person transmission within its borders.

Chinese President Xi Jinping said controlling the virus was his country’s most important task, Xinhua state news agency said.

-with AAP