Europe, South Asia, Australia yesterday reported first confirmed cases as the death toll from China’s coronavirus outbreak jumped to 41.
Australia on Saturday confirmed its first four cases, Malaysia confirmed three and France reported Europe’s first cases on Friday, as health authorities around the world scrambled to prevent a pandemic.
Health authorities in Nepal also confirmed that a student who returned from Wuhan, the central Chinese city that is the epicentre of the outbreak, tested positive for the new coronavirus, becoming the first South Asian country to report the deadly disease.
The United States is arranging a charter flight today to bring its citizens and diplomats back from Wuhan, the Wall Street Journal reported. France also announced similar move.
Meanwhile, President Xi Jinping warned yesterday that China was facing a “grave” situation as authorities took urgent action to halt the spread of the virus.
The world’s most populous country scrambled to contain the disease that has already infected more than 1,300 people,
building a second field hospital to relieve overwhelmed medical facilities and closing more travel routes as the country marked the Lunar New Year holiday.
“As long as we have steadfast confidence, work together, scientific prevention and cures, and precise policies, we will definitely be able to win the battle,” Xi said, after more countries reported cases.
In Wuhan, 450 military medics were deployed to help treat patients in the central city, where a seafood and live animal market has been identified as the centre of the outbreak.
When they should have been celebrating Lunar New Year, people waiting at one hospital in the city were angry and frustrated.
“It takes at least five hours to see a doctor,” one woman, who didn’t want to be named, told AFP.
One man in his 30s said some people had to queue for two days.
The country’s most important celebration has been all but cancelled for at least 56 million people as authorities expanded travel bans across central Hubei province to try and contain the spread of the virus.
On the eastern outskirts of Wuhan, police manning a roadblock turned away a handful of vehicles trying to exit the city.
“Nobody can leave,” an officer told AFP.
But the police allowed some medical workers who had gone home for the holidays to re-enter the city to help at crowded hospitals.
The government says most of the cases have been in Hubei and most of the deaths involved people who already suffered pre-existing health conditions.
Underscoring fears that the virus could spread further, Beijing will suspend long-distance bus service entering and leaving the capital of 20 million people from Sunday due to “requirements of epidemic prevention and control,” the official People’s Daily newspaper reported.
The National Health Commission also ordered nationwide measures to detect and isolate people carrying the virus on planes, trains and buses across the country.
Xinhua said that temperature screening checkpoints have been set up in 387 railway stations across the country.
Meanwhile, tourists from Hubei in Haikou, capital of the island province of Hainan, were told by the city government they had to spend 14 days in a hotel for centralised medical observation, and were forbidden to leave.
Foreign citizens were set to be evacuated from the virus-hit Wuhan within the next few days.
Residents in Wuhan were stocking up on masks, gloves and disinfectant.
The virus has caused global concern because of its similarity to SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome).
The new virus has now infected people nationwide and in nearly a dozen other countries, with France saying three cases were confirmed there -- the first known European infections.
The virus has also been detected in Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Nepal, and the United States.
Beijing’s Forbidden City, Shanghai Disneyland and a section of the Great Wall are among many attractions that have closed as a precaution. China’s film box-office earnings for Lunar New Year’s Eve on Friday were just one-tenth of last year as people shunned crowds.
Xi chaired a Communist Party leadership meeting which urged regional governments to make “the safety of the masses’ lives and their physical health a top priority”, state media said.
Xinhua said the Standing Committee agreed to set up a working group that would visit Hubei.
In Hong Kong, where five people have tested positive for the virus so far, city leader Carrie Lam declared the situation an “emergency” and schools, currently on holiday, will remain closed until February 17.
China’s aggressive response has won praise, especially compared to the SARS outbreak, when it was accused of reacting sluggishly and stonewalling the international community.
“China has been working very hard to contain the Coronavirus,” US President Donald Trump tweeted, hours after the United States confirmed its second case.
“The United States greatly appreciates their efforts and transparency,” he added.
The World Health Organization on Thursday stopped short of declaring a global emergency, which would have prompted greater international cooperation, including possible trade and travel restrictions.