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WHO says number of cases of deadly coronavirus 'stabilising'

Five British nationals, including a child, have now tested positive for the virus in France.

A medical worker saying goodbye to her family before leaving for Hubei yesterday.
A medical worker saying goodbye to her family before leaving for Hubei yesterday.
Image: Xinhua News Agency/PA Images

Updated Feb 8th 2020, 6:00 PM

THE NUMBER OF cases of the deadly novel coronavirus being reported on a daily basis in China is “stabilising”, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said today.

The UN health agency said this was “good news” but cautioned that it was too early to make any predictions about whether the virus might have peaked.

“There has been a stabilisation in the number of cases reported from Hubei,” Michael Ryan, head of WHO’s Health Emergencies Programme, said at a briefing in Geneva.

The central Chinese province of Hubei has been at the epicentre of the virus outbreak and has been placed under lockdown by the authorities in an effort to contain the virus.

“We’re in a four-day stable period where the number of reported cases hasn’t advanced. That’s good news and may reflect the impact of the control measures that have been put in place,” Ryan said.

But he added that it was “very early to make any predictions”.

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the trend was “not really accelerating” but also called for “caution”.

The coronavirus has infected more than 34,500 people and killed more than 700.

However, the death toll in China has soared to 722 today, an increase of almost 90 people since yesterday. 

The ruling Communist Party in China has faced 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.

In France, five British nationals including a child have tested positive for the virus, the French health minister said today. 

All five people had been staying at the same ski chalet. France now has 11 cases of the novel coronavirus.  

Meanwhile, Hong Kong has imposed a mandatory quarantine on mainland arrivals to block the spread of the epidemic that has caused global panic.

With 86 more people dying in mainland China – the highest one-day jump so far – the toll was closing in on the 774 killed worldwide during the 2002-2003 SARS epidemic.

A 60-year-old US citizen diagnosed with the virus died on Thursday in Wuhan, the city at the epicentre of the health emergency, according to the US embassy, which did not provide more details about the person.

A Japanese man in his 60s with a suspected coronavirus infection also died in hospital in Wuhan, the Japanese foreign ministry said, adding that it was “difficult” to confirm if he had the illness.

The only fatalities outside the mainland have been a Chinese man in the Philippines and a 39-year-old man in Hong Kong.

The epidemic has prompted the government to lock down cities home to tens of millions of people, as anger mounts over its handling of the crisis, especially after a whistleblowing doctor fell victim to the virus.

Vice Premier Sun Chunlan, on a visit to quarantined Wuhan this week, instructed officials to take a “wartime” approach as they implement drastic measures that include combing the city for feverish residents.

With panic spiralling around the globe – more than 320 cases have emerged in nearly 30 other countries – researchers were racing to find treatments and a vaccine to fight the virus.

china-anhui-novel-coronavirus-epidemic-medical-supply-cn Workers transfer a batch of medical protective suits to be shipped to Wuhan. Source: Xinhua News Agency/PA Images

Hong Kong quarantine

Hong Kong began enforcing a two-week quarantine for anyone arriving from mainland China, under threat of both fines and jail terms.

Most people will be able to be quarantined at home or in hotels but they will face daily phone calls and spot checks.

The financial hub has 25 confirmed cases, with one patient who died earlier this week.

Hong Kong has been on edge as the virus has revived memories of the SARS outbreak that killed 299 people in the semi-autonomous city.

Hong Kong officials hope the new measures will virtually halt the flow of people across the border while allowing the city to remain stocked with food and goods from the mainland.

In the last week, Hong Kong has been hit by a wave of panic-buying with supermarket shelves frequently emptied of staple goods such as toilet paper, hand sanitiser, rice and pasta.

Cruise ship quarantined 

Other governments around the world have hardened their defences, with several countries banning arrivals from China and advising their citizens to avoid travelling there.

Major airlines have suspended flights to and from China.

Asian cruise ships have become a focal point as dozens of cases have been confirmed on a vessel off Japan’s coast.

Hero doctor 

coronavirus-kills-chinese-doctor-li-wenliang A Chinese citizen paying tribute to Li Wenliang at the doctor's hospital in Wuhan yesterday. Source: Shi Zhi/Utuku/Ropi

On the mainland, the death of a Wuhan doctor yesterday who was reprimanded by police after he had sent messages warning about the virus back in December sparked a rare outpouring of grief and anger on social media.

Li Wenliang, an ophthalmologist who contracted the disease while treating a patient, was eulogised as a “hero” while people on Twitter-like Weibo railed against “fat officials” and demanded “freedom of speech”.

Researchers are scrambling to develop a drug to combat the virus.

The US health department is working with pharmaceutical firm Regeneron to develop a treatment using a class of drug that has boosted survival rates among Ebola patients.

Two weeks ago, Chinese doctors confirmed they had been giving anti-HIV drugs to coronavirus patients in Beijing, based on a 2004 study published after the SARS outbreak that showed “favourable” responses.

Scientists around the world are also working to develop a vaccine, which experts say could take months.

With reporting from Press Association. 

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