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WHO chief heads to China as coronavirus death toll tops 100

WHO Director-General will assess the Chinese response during his visit as officials mount an aggressive attempt to stop the spread of the SARS-like virus.

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Tokyo/New York: The director-general of the World Health Organization is visiting Beijing to assess China’s response to a new coronavirus as the death toll topped 100 and the number of cases soared overnight.

Global efforts to curb the spread of the disease intensified. Companies including Honda Motor Co. are evacuating workers from areas of China hardest hit by the outbreak. The U.S. said citizens should reconsider travel to China, while Hong Kong announced the temporary closing of all sports and cultural facilities starting Wednesday.

  • BREAKING: Death toll climbs to 106
  • Confirmed cases in China soars to 4,515
  • WHO director-general heads to China
  • Stocks slump around the world on virus jitters

The number of deaths climbed to 106, China’s National Health Commission said Tuesday. The number of confirmed cases on the mainland soared to 4,515, from 2,744 Monday. One hundred of the fatalities have occurred in Hubei, the province where the city of Wuhan is located.

Cases of infection have been reported throughout Asia and Australia, as well as in the U.S., France and Canada. Germany confirmed its first case.

Stocks slumped around the globe on fears over the virus, with Asian shares retreating again Tuesday after the S&P 500 Index slid the most in almost four months Monday.

Public health officials in China and around the globe have mounted an aggressive attempt to stop the spread of the SARS-like virus. While cases in other countries have been limited, Chinese officials said the virus isn’t yet under control despite aggressive steps to limit movement for millions of people who live in cities near Wuhan, the city at the epicenter of the outbreak.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said he’s heading to Beijing to meet with the government and assess the response. That follows a visit Monday by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang to Wuhan.

Last week, the WHO declined to label the coronavirus an international emergency, a designation that would have allowed the United Nations agency to begin coordinating government responses.

As the outbreak accelerates, China has extended the Lunar New Year holiday to 2 February from the original 30 January date to reduce travel. Authorities have also locked down cities with a combined 40 million people around Wuhan, as they race to contain the virus.

The U.S. consulate in Wuhan plans to evacuate some Americans in a charter flight, while France and Japan have also said they plan to repatriate citizens.

Global corporations are also stepping up their response in an effort to protect workers.

Facebook Inc. is restricting employee travel to China, while others including Nissan Motor Co. and Honda are evacuating workers from areas hardest hit by the outbreak. Facebook employees based in China, and those who recently returned from trips to the country, are being told to work from home, said people familiar with the matter. Credit Suisse Group SA and UBS Group AG are among banks telling Hong Kong staff to work from home for two weeks if they’ve just visited mainland China.

U.S. Alert

The new U.S. travel alert, Level 3, is the second highest of four State Department advisories. Previously, the U.S. had urged citizens to “exercise increased caution” when visiting China, while avoiding any travel to the area near Wuhan, the city of 11 million where the epidemic started.

The U.S. may also expand travel screening at its borders and is closely monitoring 110 people to stop the virus, testing them for presence of the pathogen. As of Monday morning, there have been no new U.S. cases after the first five patients were identified in the past week.

“At this time in the U.S., this virus is not spreading in the community,” said Nancy Messonnier, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.

Anxiety is growing amid evidence that the disease has an incubation period of as long as two weeks before those infected start to show symptoms. That raises the possibility that people could travel and eventually infect others before realizing they have the illness. But Messonnier said that so far there has been no clear evidence that the virus can spread during the incubation period before patients have symptoms.

The new coronavirus appears to be less contagious than highly infectious viruses like the measles, she said. Coronaviruses like this one, so named because of their crown-like shape, are generally transmitted by respiratory droplets, she said.-Bloomberg

Also read: Coronavirus unlikely to turn global pandemic, say experts


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