China virus death toll tops 100

by AFP / pic by AFP

WUHAN • China yesterday urged its citizens to postpone foreign travel to curb a viral outbreak that has killed 106 people (at press time), as the first cases of human-to-human contagion were detected abroad.

While a host of nations prepared to airlift their citizens from the epicentre of the epidemic, Japan and Germany reported the first cases that were not directly imported from China.

Until now, all cases in more than a dozen countries involved people who had been in or around Wuhan, the central Chinese city where the coronavirus first emerged in late December before infecting thousands of people nationwide.

In Japan, a man in his 60s contracted the virus apparently after driving two groups of tourists from Wuhan earlier in January, the Health Ministry said. He was hospitalised with flu-like symptoms on Saturday.

On the other side of the world, a 33-year-old German man caught the disease from a Chinese colleague from Shanghai who visited Germany last week, according to health officials.

The development came after countries including Sri Lanka, Malaysia and the Philippines announced tighter visa restrictions for people coming from China.

Experts believe the virus came from a wild animal market in Wuhan and then jumped to humans, with Chinese health officials saying yesterday that people infect each other through sneezing or coughing, and possibly through contact.

Authorities initially sealed off Wuhan and other cities in central Hubei province late last week, trapping more than 50 million people.

China then halted international and domestic group tours. It also imposed a wide range of travel restrictions inside China.

But with the death toll climbing and more fatalities reported in Chinese cities far away from Wuhan, authorities yesterday urged people to delay any foreign travel.

The National Health Commission yesterday announced 26 new deaths — mostly elderly — bringing the nationwide total to 106.

The commission also said confirmed infections had nearly doubled from the previous day to 4,515, with another 7,000 cases suspected and awaiting confirmation.

Several foreign governments have drawn up plans to safely evacuate their citizens, but have faced major logistical and bureaucratic challenges.

Japan said it would send a chartered flight yesterday evening to get about a third of its 650 nationals there.

“We will also bring aid supplies such as masks and protective suits for Chinese people, as well as for Japanese nationals,” Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi said in Tokyo.

Motegi said the plane would leave Wuhan this morning and that more flights may follow. If the mission succeeds, Japan would be the first country to airlift its citizens out of Wuhan. — AFP