Coronavirus death toll hits 170 as health leaders meet again

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China’s coronavirus death toll reached 170 on Thursday as foreign evacuees from the worst-hit region began returning home under close observation.

India and the Philippines reported their first cases, in a traveller and a student who had both been in Wuhan, the central Chinese city where the new type of coronavirus first surfaced in December.

South Korea confirmed a case that was locally spread, in a man who had contact with a patient diagnosed earlier.

Locally spread cases outside China have been a worrying concern among global health officials as potential signs of the virus spreading more easily and the difficulty of containing it.

The World Health Organisation is reconvening experts on Thursday to assess whether the outbreak should be declared a global emergency.

Commuters in Taipei wear facemasks on their way to work
The coronavirus outbreak has led millions of people to wear face masks in various parts of the world, such as these commuters in Taipei (Chiang Ying-Ying/AP)

Thursday’s figures reflected an increase of 38 deaths and 1,737 cases in 24 hours, for a total of 7,711 cases.

Of the new deaths, 37 were in the epicentre of the outbreak in Hubei province, with one in the south-western province of Sichuan.

Three of Japan’s confirmed cases were among a group of evacuees who returned on a Government-chartered flight from Wuhan on Wednesday.

Japan’s foreign ministry said a second flight carrying 210 Japanese evacuees landed at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport on Thursday.

Reports said nine of those aboard the flight showed signs of cough and fever.

India’s health ministry said a student in Kerala state who had been studying in Wuhan was confirmed to have the virus after returning home during the Lunar New Year break.

Philippine health officials say a woman who traveled to the country from Wuhan via Hong Kong had tested positive.

Vietnam, meanwhile, confirmed three new cases on Thursday- all people returned from Wuhan – bringing its total to five.

The patients, who are receiving treatment in Hanoi and Thanh Hoa provinces, are all in stable condition, Do Xuan Tuyen, deputy minister of health, said in a statement.

The city of Wuhan, the epicentre of the virus, remains in lockdown mode (Handout/PA)

A statement from the US Embassy in Beijing said additional evacuation flights were being planned for Monday or surrounding days.

France, New Zealand, Australia, India, Singapore and other countries are also trying to remove their citizens.

Taiwan, the self-governing republic China considers its own territory, has also asked to be able to repatriate its passport holders from Wuhan but it and the UK said they were awaiting approval from Beijing.

China extended its Lunar New Year holiday to Sunday to try to contain the virus but the wave of returning travellers could potentially cause the virus to spread further.

Transport ministry spokesman Wu Chungeng outlined a series of rigorous temperature checks and other “severe measures” to detect possibly infectious passengers.

Restrictions such as those isolating Wuhan and suspending inter-provincial bus services would remain in place, he said.

“It’s definitely very challenging but we’re confident we can exert effective control,” Mr Wu told reporters at the briefing.

Meanwhile, WHO emergencies chief Michael Ryan spoke in Geneva after returning from Beijing.

He said China was taking “extraordinary measures in the face of an extraordinary challenge” posed by the outbreak.

To date, about 99% of the cases are in China.

Mr Ryan estimated the death rate of the new virus at 2% but said the figure was very preliminary.

In comparison, the SARS virus killed about 10% of people who caught it.

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