China coronavirus: Death toll rises as disease spreads

Media captionWhat’s life like in quarantined Wuhan?

The death toll from a newly-discovered coronavirus in China has risen to 41 on the day of the Lunar New Year.

Another 15 deaths in Hubei province, where the outbreak began, were announced on Saturday.

Health officials are struggling to contain the outbreak as millions of people travel for the Chinese new year, one of the most important events. Many festivities have been cancelled.

There are now more than 1,200 confirmed cases in China.

The virus has also spread to Europe, with three cases confirmed in France. The UK is investigating a number of suspected cases, with officials trying to trace around 2,000 people who have recently flown to the UK from Hubei province.

Australia has also confirmed several cases in Melbourne and Sydney, joining a handful of countries treating patients.

What does the virus do?

The coronavirus, previously unknown to science, causes severe acute respiratory infection with symptoms including a fever and cough. There is no specific cure or vaccine.

Based on an earlier report of the fatalities, when just 17 were dead, most of the victims appeared to be older people, many with pre-existing medical conditions.

But one of the dead in the most recent update was a doctor at a hospital in Hubei, China Global Television Network reported.

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Pharmacy have been wearing protective clothes and masks serve customers in Wuhan

Symptoms seem to start with a fever, followed by a dry cough and then, after a week, lead to shortness of breath and some patients needing hospital treatment.

About a quarter of cases are thought to be severe.

What restrictions are in place in Hubei?

Travel restrictions vary from city to city.

Wuhan, where the outbreak began, is effectively on lockdown: all bus, underground and ferry services have been suspended, and all outbound planes and trains cancelled.

The People’s Daily newspaper reports that from Sunday, only special vehicles will be allowed on roads in Wuhan’s downtown area.

A new hospital is being built in the city, for patients. Chinese media outlets said the new 1,000-bed hospital could be ready within six days.

Pharmacies in the city have begun to run out of supplies and hospitals have been filled with nervous members of the public.

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Residents have been advised not to leave, and roadblocks have been reported.

Ezhou, a smaller city in Hubei, shut its railway station. The city of Enshi has suspended all bus services.

And the rest of China?

Hong Kong’s leader, Carrie Lam, raised the alert level to the highest level of emergency on Saturday, and extended the school holiday period to keep schools closed for two more weeks.

City officials in the capital, Beijing, and Shanghai have asked residents who return from affected areas to stay at home for 14 days to prevent the spread of the virus, local media report.

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Hospitals are facing overcrowding in Wuhan

Authorities have also shut major tourist sites including the Forbidden City in Beijing and a section of the Great Wall, and cancelled major public events in other parts of the country, including:

  • Traditional temple fairs in Beijing
  • An international carnival in Hong Kong
  • Hong Kong’s annual football tournament
  • All public Lunar New Year celebrations in Macau

Shanghai’s Disney Resort is temporarily closing, as are McDonald’s restaurants in five cities.

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On Thursday, a coronavirus patient died in northern Hebei province – making it the first death outside Hubei.

Another death was later confirmed in north-east Heilongjiang province, more than 2,000km (1,200 miles) from Wuhan.

Earlier, when the death toll was 17, information from China’s National Health Commission said the youngest person who died from the virus was 48 and the oldest was 89.

But 15 of the 17 were over 60, and more than half suffered from other chronic diseases including Parkinson’s and diabetes. Just four were women.

What’s the global situation?

French Health Minister Agn├Ęs Buzyn said one of the French cases, a 48-year-old man of Chinese origin who had been visiting Wuhan, had been taken to hospital in Bordeaux. Little was known about the second case, in hospital in Paris, except that the patient had been in China.

It was likely other cases would occur in Europe, Ms Buzyn added.

She confirmed a third case, in Paris, later on Friday evening.

On Saturday, Australia reported its first case, a patient who is in hospital in Melbourne, after arriving from China last weekend. That was quickly followed by the announcement of three cases in Sydney, in the neighbouring state of New South Wales.

Earlier on Friday a case was confirmed in Chicago, the second in the US.

Singapore confirmed its third case, known to be the son of another patient, also on Friday. Nepal recorded its first case on the same day.

Thailand has five cases confirmed; Japan three; Vietnam and South Korea two each; and one in Taiwan.

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Other nations are investigating suspected cases, including the UK, US, and Canada.

Media captionWHO regional director says China now has “stronger capacity” to deal with infectious outbreaks

The World Health Organization has not classed the virus as an “international emergency”, partly because of the low number of overseas cases.

“It may yet become one,” said the WHO’s director-general, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

Learn more about the new virus

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