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Dublin: 2 °C Tuesday 18 February, 2020
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Coronavirus death toll hits 811, surpassing SARS fatalities

A reduction in new cases has, however, provided hope the spread of the disease may be slowing.

Image: PA

THE DEATH TOLL in China from the coronavirus has risen to 811, surpassing SARS fatalities in the 2002-2003 outbreak, Chinese health authorities announced today. 

China’s National Health Commission said total cases in the country from the virus had increased to 37,198, up from 34,546 a day earlier.

However, the number of new cases reported over the 24 hours to this morning fell significantly from the previous period, which experts believe shows the spread of the virus may be slowing.

Another 89 deaths were reported today, while 2,656 new cases were added, down from the 3,399 cases reported for the previous 24 hours.

The outbreak of SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, killed 774 people and infected more than 8,000 worldwide. Like the new virus, it also originated in China.

As more cases of the virus emerged worldwide, France announced it would close two schools in the Alps after five British citizens, including a nine-year-old child, were confirmed to have caught the disease at a French ski resort.

Saturday’s announcement of the five new cases in France at the height of the ski season is the latest example of how the tentacles of the virus can easily spread across multiple borders.

The five British citizens were staying in a chalet in the Alpine ski resort of Contamines-Montjoie near Mont Blanc, and were in close contact with another Briton who apparently contracted the virus in Singapore, travelled to the French Alps and tested positive for the virus on returning to Britain, French Health Minister Agnes Buzyn told reporters.

That brings the total number of virus cases in France to 11. Britain has three confirmed cases.

The five British citizens with new cases of the virus are being held in Lyon-area hospitals, along with six other Britons who were in close contact with them and are now being monitored, the French health ministry said.

The chalet where they were staying housed a British family that lives in Contamines and another family of British vacationers. The ill child lives in Contamines and attends a local school, and took French classes at another local school, regional officials told a news conference on Saturday.

Both schools will be closed, and the pupils will be monitored for signs of the virus.

Local officials sought to reassure tourists descending this weekend on one of the world’s most prized ski areas that all preventive measures were being taken to stem the further spread of the virus.

“This cluster of cases in France illustrates how the coronavirus can spread to countries indirectly of China. The French ski resort will have citizens from numerous other countries there, so there are implications for potential onward transmission,” said Dr. Michael Head, Senior Research Fellow in Global Health, University of Southampton.

After a special virus meeting on Saturday, the French government decided to harden its travel warning for China, cautioning against all travel there unless in case of “imperative” need.

The patient in Britain apparently contracted the virus after staying at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Singapore and attending a business conference there from January 20-22. There were 94 foreigners in the hotel at the time, including people from Hubei, according to the French minister.

The British citizen then spent January 24-28 in the French Alps, and tested positive for the virus after returning home this week.

In China, the ruling Communist Party is facing anger and recriminations from the public over the death of a doctor who was threatened by police after trying to sound the alarm about the disease more than a month ago.

Following an online uproar over the government’s treatment of Dr Li Wenliang, the Communist Party struck a conciliatory note, saying it is sending a team to “fully investigate relevant issues raised by the public”.

health-coronavirus Coronavirus: confirmed cases Source: PA Graphics

Dr Li, a 34-year-old ophthalmologist, contracted the virus while treating patients, and his death was confirmed early on Friday.

He was one of eight medical professionals in Wuhan who tried to warn colleagues and others when the government did not. He had said that police forced him to sign a statement admitting he spread falsehoods.

Chinese president Xi Jinping spoke with his US counterpart Donald Trump on Friday and urged the US to “respond reasonably” to the outbreak, echoing complaints that some countries are overreacting by restricting Chinese travellers.

The US embassy in Beijing said a 60-year-old US citizen diagnosed with the virus died in Wuhan on Wednesday, apparently the first American fatality of the outbreak.

Japan’s foreign ministry said a Japanese citizen being treated in Wuhan had died of pneumonia and was likely to have been infected with the virus.

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