BEIJING (Reuters) – The official death toll from the coronavirus in China jumped on Saturday to 41 from 26 a day earlier, as local media reported a doctor on the frontline of the battle to contain the virus in Wuhan city had died.
More than 1,300 people have been infected globally, as health authorities around the world scramble to prevent a global pandemic.
Doctor Liang Wudong, 62, at Hubei Xinhua Hospital in Wuhan, the city where the virus first appeared and which is in virtual quarantine, died from the virus, China Global Television Network reported in a tweet.
It was unclear if his death was already counted in the official toll of 41, 39 of which were in the central Hubei province.
The total number of confirmed cases in China now stands at 1,287, the National Health Commission said in a statement on Saturday.
The virus has also been detected in Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Nepal, France, the United States and Australia.
Australia on Saturday announced its first case of coronavirus, a Chinese national in his 50s, who had been in Wuhan and arrived from China on Jan. 19 on a flight from Guangzhou. He is in a stable condition in a Melbourne hospital.
“Given the number of cases that have been found outside of China and the significant traffic from Wuhan city in the past to Australia, it was not unexpected that we would get some cases,” Australia’s Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy told a news conference.
“This is the first confirmed case. There are other cases being tested each day, many of them are negative, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we had further confirmed cases.”
French authorities reported Europe’s first confirmed cases on Friday evening.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Friday it had 63 patients under investigation, with two confirmed cases, both in people who had traveled to Wuhan. Human-to-human transmission has been observed in the virus, which health authorities believe originated in a market in Wuhan that traded illegally in wildlife.
The World Health Organization (WHO) declared the new coronavirus an “emergency in China” this week but stopped short of declaring it of international concern.
Wuhan, a city of 11 million, is in virtual lockdown. Nearly all flights at the airport have been canceled and checkpoints block the main roads leading out of town. Authorities have since imposed similar lockdowns on more than 10 cities near Wuhan as part of the ongoing containment effort.
As Wuhan slides into isolation, pharmacies have begun to run out of supplies and hospitals have been flooded with nervous residents. The city is rushing to build a 1,000-bed hospital by Monday, state media said.
Hubei’s health authority said on Saturday there were 658 patients affected by the virus in medical care, 57 of whom were critically ill.
The newly-identified coronavirus has created alarm because there are still many unknowns surrounding it, such as how dangerous it is and how easily it spreads between people. It can cause pneumonia, which has been deadly in some cases.
Symptoms include fever, difficulty breathing and coughing. Most of the fatalities have been in elderly patients, many with pre-existing conditions, the WHO said.
NEW YEAR DISRUPTIONS
Airports around the world have stepped up screening of passengers from China, though some health officials and experts have questioned the effectiveness of such screenings and of the lockdown.
Health officials fear the transmission rate could accelerate as hundreds of millions of Chinese travel at home and abroad during week-long holidays for the Lunar New Year, which began on Saturday.
As China scrambles to contain the outbreak some sections of the Great Wall near Beijing will be closed from Saturday.
Beijing’s Lama Temple, where people traditionally make offerings for the new year, has closed, as have some other temples and the Forbidden City, the capital’s most famous tourist attraction.
Shanghai Disneyland will close from Saturday. The theme park has a 100,000 daily capacity and sold out during last year’s Lunar New Year holiday.
Film premieres have been postponed and McDonald’s suspended business in five cities in Hubei province.
Shanghai has shut down all cinemas during the Lunar New Year holidays, which last until Jan. 30, the Liberation Daily said on its online channel on Saturday.
Reporting by Sophie Yu, Yilei Sun, Judy Hua, Roxanne Liu and Se Young Lee; Additional reporting Lidia Kelly in Melbourne. Writing by Michael Perry; Editing by Sam Holmes
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