New virus cases fall; WHO says China bought the world time

New virus cases fall; WHO says China bought the world time

Sunday, February 16, 2020

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BEIJING, China (AP) — China reported 143 virus deaths and a dip in new cases yesterday while the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) praised the country's efforts to contain the new disease, saying they have “bought the world time” and that other nations must make the most of it.

France, meanwhile, reported Europe's first death from the new virus, a Chinese tourist from Hubei province, where the disease emerged in December.

The United States was preparing to fly home American passengers quarantined aboard a cruise ship in Japan.

China reported 2,641 new cases in the 24 hours through midnight Friday, raising its total to 66,492. Mainland China's death toll rose to 1,523.

The number of new cases was down from the 5,090 recorded in the previous 24-hour period after authorities changed the basis for counting patients. Numbers of new cases have fluctuated, fuelling both optimism the disease might be under control and warnings that such hopes are premature.

The UN health agency's Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus urged governments to step up their efforts to prepare for the virus, saying “it's impossible to predict which direction this epidemic will take”.

Tedros told a gathering of international foreign and security policy leaders in Germany yesterday that WHO is encouraged there has not yet been widespread transmission outside China and that “the steps China has taken to contain the outbreak at its source appear to have bought the world time”.

“We're encouraged that an international team of experts is now on the ground working closely with Chinese counterparts to understand the outbreak,” Tedros told the Munich Security Conference.

But he said the agency is “concerned by the continued increase in the number of cases in China”, and by reports about the number of health workers who have been infected or died.

“We're concerned by the lack of urgency in funding the response from the international community,” Tedros said.

“We must use the window of opportunity we have to intensify our preparedness,” he added. “China has bought the world time. We don't know how much time.”

China's Government suspended most access to Wuhan, the city at the centre of the outbreak, on January 23. Restrictions have expanded to cities with a total of 60 million people in the broadest anti-disease measures ever imposed. Restaurants, shops and other businesses nationwide were ordered to close.

The Lunar New Year holiday was extended to keep factories and offices closed, but now officials have been ordered to revive business activity as economic losses mount.

Authorities have announced measures to try to curb new infections as millions of workers crowd into planes, trains and buses to return to densely populated cities.

Under the new measures, people returning to Beijing will have to isolate themselves at home for 14 days, according to a notice published Friday. It said people who fail to comply will face legal consequences but gave no details.

COVID-19, a disease stemming from a new form of coronavirus, has spread to more than two dozen countries.

The 80-year-old Chinese tourist who died in France was hospitalised January 25 with a lung infection, according to Health Minister Agnes Buzyn. His daughter also fell ill but authorities say she is expected to recover.


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