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British Airways suspends all direct flights to and from mainland China as coronavirus death toll rises

The death toll from the virus has reached 132.

Image: Shutterstock/Robert Wei

Updated Jan 29th 2020, 7:34 AM

BRITISH AIRWAYS HAS halted all flights in and out of mainland China as the country gets to grip with the growing number of people affected by the novel coronavirus.

Urgent plans to bring British citizens back from the Chinese province of Hubei are being finalised by the government.

Yesterday, the UK’s Home Office upgraded its travel advisory for China, advising against all non-essential travel to and from the country.   

Meanwhile, scientists have grown a version of the Wuhan coronavirus which could pave the way for the development of a vaccine against the deadly illness.

Researchers from The Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity (Doherty Institute) in Melbourne said the breakthrough will allow for accurate investigation and diagnosis of the virus globally.

The Doherty Institute’s virus identification laboratory head, Dr Julian Druce called the development a “game changer”.

The virus ,which is believed to have emanated from the city in Hubei province,  has killed 132 and infected nearly 6,000 people around the world.

“Chinese officials released the genome sequence of this novel coronavirus, which is helpful for diagnosis, however, having the real virus means we now have the ability to actually validate and verify all test methods and compare their sensitivities and specificities,” Dr Druce said.

“The virus will be used as positive control material for the Australian network of public health laboratories, and also shipped to expert laboratories working closely with the World Health Organisation (WHO) in Europe.”

The virus was grown from a patient sample that the Doherty Institute received on Friday.

The laboratory-grown virus is expected to be used to generate an antibody test, which allows detection of the virus in patients who have not yet displayed any symptoms.

Deputy Director of the Doherty Institute Dr Mike Catton said the team had been planning for an incident like this for some time.

“An antibody test will enable us to retrospectively test suspected patients so we can gather a more accurate picture of how widespread the virus is, and consequently, among other things, the true mortality rate,” Dr Catton said.

“It will also assist in the assessment of effectiveness of trial vaccines.

“We’ve planned for an incident like this for many, many years and that’s really why we were able to get an answer so quickly.”

Thousands of foreigners are among millions of people stuck in the central Chinese city of Wuhan as the country struggles to get to grips with the spread of the SARS-like virus.

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Japan, France the United States are gearing up to airlift hundreds of their citizens from ground zero of China’s deadly virus epidemic today.

More than 50 million people have been locked down in and around Wuhan, the central industrial city where the outbreak first began, in a bid by authorities to stop an infection that has since spread to more than 15 countries.

Yesterday, Germany confirmed there have been four cases of the virus identified in the country so far, the second EU country to be affected. 

With reporting from AFP. 

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