- Thousands of passengers trapped on quarantined cruise ships off Japan, HK
- Authorities setting up second field hospital offering 1,600 beds in Hubei’s capital Wuhan
- Air France-KLM, Virgin, Iberia extend China flight suspensions
China’s coronavirus crisis deepened yesterday with the death toll soaring to 563, as thousands of people trapped on quarantined cruise ships added to the global panic about the epidemic.
More than 28,000 people have now been infected across China as authorities struggle to contain the outbreak despite compelling millions to stay indoors in a growing number of cities.
Two dozen countries have confirmed cases of the respiratory disease which emerged from a market selling exotic animals in the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year.
Thousands of people on cruise ships in Hong Kong and Japan now face an agonising wait to find out if more among them have been infected.
At least 20 people on board the Diamond Princess have tested positive so far, while some 3,700 passengers and crew from over 50 countries have been confined to quarters aboard the cruise ship off Yokohama since Monday night.
In Hong Kong, 3,600 people were preparing to spend a second night confined aboard the World Dream as authorities conducted health checks after eight former passengers tested positive for the virus.
Health officials in the financial hub yesterday said they were also asking some 5,000 Hong Kongers who had taken trips on the ship since mid-January to contact them.
Panic buyers in the semi-autonomous city left shelves of toilet paper empty at supermarkets following false online claims of shortages, prompting authorities to appeal for calm.
One person has died after contracting the virus in Hong Kong so far.
While the death toll continues to rise in China, health experts have stressed that at two percent, 2019-nCoV is far less deadly than the SARS pathogen, which killed around 10 percent of the people it infected 17 years ago.
But the outbreak has been declared a global health emergency, prompting several governments to warn against travel to China and ban new arrivals from the country, while airlines have halted flights.
In the latest international actions, Saudi Arabia banned its citizens and resident foreigners from travelling to China, while Air France-KLM, Virgin and Iberia said yesterday they would extend their initial suspension of flights to China.
A newborn was among the new cases in Wuhan, suggesting the baby was infected by the mother during pregnancy or immediately after.
With medical facilities in Hubei’s capital Wuhan overwhelmed with patients, authorities were due to open a second field hospital, offering 1,600 beds.
The city of 11 million is facing a “severe” lack of beds, said Hu Lishan, a senior official in Wuhan, noting that there were 8,182 patients admitted to 28 hospitals that have a total of 8,254 beds.
There is also a shortage of equipment and materials, Hu said.
Human Rights Watch yesterday accused China of suppressing criticism of its response to the deadly novel coronavirus and said it had made the outbreak worse.
HRW chief Kenneth Roth also criticised the Chinese government’s lockdown on various cities in an attempt to contain the virus as a “sledgehammer” approach.