China virus death toll jumps to 41

Army medics deployed as 444 new cases found raising total number to 1,287

By: AFP      Published: 12:05 PM, 25 Jan, 2020
China virus death toll jumps to 41
A general view of a street in Wuhan on Saturday.–AFP

A deadly viral outbreak in China has now killed 41 people, while the number of infected cases has soared to nearly 1,300, authorities said Saturday.

The 15 new deaths all took place in Wuhan, the city of 11 million where the deadly respiratory contagion first emerged, the Hubei Health Commission said.

At least 444 new cases of the virus have been found, raising the total number to 1,287, the National Health Commission said in a separate statement.

The disease has spread to 30 provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities. Wuhan and 13 other cities in Hubei have been locked down in an unprecedented quarantine effort aimed at containing the deadly respiratory contagion, which has spread to several other countries.

The Hubei Health Commission also reported 180 new cases overall in the province, 77 of them in Wuhan but the bulk of the rest spread out across the locked-down smaller cities. There are now 729 cases in Hubei alone.

Several of those cities were reporting their first cases of the pathogen -- 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) -- the commission said.

The previously unknown virus has caused global concern because of its similarity to SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), which killed hundreds across mainland China and Hong Kong in 2002-2003.

It also has struck at possibly the worst time for China, when hundreds of millions of people are travelling across the country or overseas to celebrate the Lunar New Year holiday, China's most important festival.

Some 56 million people are now affected by transport bans around the epicentre of China's virus outbreak as five more cities announced travel restrictions to contain the disease. The rules include closing public transport links and access to highways in the cities, local authorities said.

A total of 18 cities now have some sort of travel restrictions in central Hubei province.

The Chinese army deployed medical specialists to the epicentre of a spiralling viral outbreak. China has launched a massive quarantine effort across much of Hubei province, affecting more than 40 million people.

On the eastern outskirts of Wuhan - Hubei's capital and the original source of the previously unknown 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) - police manning a roadblock turned away a handful of vehicles trying to escape the city. "Nobody can leave," an officer told AFP.

In a dramatic escalation of the central government's involvement, China deployed 450 military medical staff to Wuhan, state media said.

The medics, who arrived on military aircraft late Friday, include doctors with experience combating SARS or Ebola, and will be dispatched to hospitals that are reportedly short on beds due to a crush of infected patients and worried locals.

"Everyone is just trying to protect themselves," said a man in a surgical mask at a store where customers were stocking up on protective gear.

But the man, who declined to give his name, expressed confidence in Chinese authorities. "The government is in control of this. It's not a problem."

The virus has caused global concern because of its similarity to SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), which killed hundreds across mainland China and Hong Kong in 2002-2003 and spread to a number of other countries.

China's aggressive response has won praise internationally, especially compared to its handling of SARS, when it was accused of a sluggish response 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. "It will all work out well."