Coronavirus death toll rises to 170 with 7711 cases

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BEIJING (AP) – The death toll has risen to 170 in the new virus outbreak in China, with 7,711 cases reported within the country.

Thursday’s figures cover the previous 24 hours and represent an increase of 38 deaths and 1,737 cases. Of the new deaths, 37 were in the epicenter of the outbreak in Hubei province and one in the southwestern province of Sichuan.

The news comes as the 195 Americans evacuated from Wuhan, the Hubei province city of 11 million where the outbreak originated, are undergoing three days of testing and monitoring at a Southern California military base to make sure they do not show signs of the virus.

World health officials expressed “great concern” Wednesday that the virus is starting to spread between people outside of China. The new virus has now infected more people in China than were sickened there during the 2002-2003 SARS outbreak.

Scientists say there are still many critical questions to be answered about the new virus, including just how transmissible and severe it is. More than 50 cases have been reported outside China.

China cut off access to Wuhan and 16 other cities to try to contain the outbreak. Villages on the outskirts of Beijing are closing themselves off to outsiders to ward against infection.

Roads are being blocked by piles of earth or other types of barricades, red banners are tied overhead and villagers wearing masks and red armbands stand guard to prevent outsiders and their vehicles from entering. Those wishing to visit have to prove their presence is necessary and testify that they have not traveled to Wuhan, the epicenter of the virus, or other stricken areas.

A village committee member says, “If we let in one (infected) person, the whole village would be ruined.”

A plane evacuating more than 200 Americans from Wuhan continued Wednesday on to southern California after everyone aboard passed a health screening test in Anchorage, Alaska.

The aircraft had stopped there to refuel. All 201 passengers had already been through two screenings in China and were screened twice more in Anchorage.

Alaska’s Department of Health and Social Services says one passenger received medical attention for a minor injury that happened before boarding the airplane in China.

In California, they will undergo additional health screenings and finish the repatriation process.

U.S. health officials insisted earlier Tuesday the virus’ risk to Americans is very low. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said that worry about the virus should not impact Americans’ day-to-day lives.

So far there are five confirmed cases of the virus in the U.S. and no sign those patients have spread the illness to those around them. But as a precaution, the U.S. is beefing up its checks on returning international travelers beyond the five airports initially announced, to encompass 20 entry points.

The United Arab Emirates confirmed on Wednesday the first four cases of the new virus in the Mideast. The UAE’s state-run WAM news agency, citing the Health and Prevention Ministry, said the cases came from “members of a family arriving from the Chinese city of Wuhan.” It did not say where those infected were being treated or explain how or when the family traveled from Wuhan to the UAE.

The first group of Japanese evacuees from Wuhan arrived in Tokyo, a dozen of them with a cough and fever including two who were later diagnosed with pneumonia. Five of the 206 evacuees have been taken to designated Tokyo hospitals specializing in treating infectious diseases. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told a parliamentary session they are still checking if any passengers were ill with the virus.

Japan’s government sent a chartered flight late Tuesday night to pick up the evacuees, most of whom resided close to the Wuhan seafood market linked to the first cases of the new virus that has infected thousands.

Japan has seven cases including what could be the first human-to-human infection in the country, a man in his 60s who worked as a tour bus driver and served two groups of Chinese tourists from Wuhan earlier this month.

British Airways said Wednesday it’s immediately suspending all of its flights to and from mainland China. The company said in a statement that “we apologize to customers for the inconvenience, but the safety of our customers and crew is always our priority.”

The airline usually operates daily flights from London’s Heathrow Airport to Shanghai and Beijing. It took the measure a day after Britain’s Foreign Office updated its travel advice on China, warning against “all but essential travel” to the mainland, not including Hong Kong and Macao.

Asian budget carriers Lion Air and Seoul Air have also suspended all flights to China. Several other airlines including Finnair, Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific and Singapore-based Jetstar Asia are reducing the number of flights to the country as demand for travel drops because of the outbreak.

Australia and New Zealand will work together to evacuate their isolated and vulnerable citizens from the Hubei province. The countries have also ratcheted up their travel advice for China.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Wednesday could not say how many or how soon citizens would be flown out by Qantas. The departures would be arranged in consultation with China.

The citizens would be sent for 14 days to a quarantine center on Christmas Island, an Australian territory in the Indian Ocean which has been used to hold asylum seekers and foreign criminals facing deportation.

Australian health officials say the Chinese women’s national soccer team is being quarantined in Brisbane city over concerns about the possible spread of the coronavirus. Queensland state Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young says 32 people — including players and staff — traveled through Wuhan a week ago.

The team will be kept in isolation in a Brisbane hotel until Wednesday next week. The group arrived in Brisbane on a flight from Shanghai on Tuesday before border officials placed them in isolation. They are travelling with a team doctor and none has shown symptoms.

Meanwhile, Australia has advised its citizens to reconsider their need to travel to China and not to travel to Hubei. New Zealand’s government advised people to avoid all non-essential travel to China due to the viral outbreak.

International sports events including qualifiers for the Tokyo Olympics are being affected by the spread of the virus. The international ski federation on Wednesday canceled the first World Cup races scheduled for testing the mountain venue for alpine skiing at the 2022 Beijing Olympics. A men’s downhill had been scheduled for Feb. 15 at Yanqing to start a two-race weekend.

Games in China next week in field hockey’s women’s Pro League have been postponed by the sport’s governing body. Olympic qualifying events scheduled in China in February in soccer, basketball and boxing have been moved elsewhere. China is also due to host the indoor athletics world championships in March in Nanjing.

Shares are mostly higher in Asia after a rebound on Wall Street that reversed most losses from a sell-off the day before. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng dropped 2.8% after reopening Wednesday from Lunar New Year holidays, while other Chinese markets remained closed. Shares rose in Tokyo, Seoul, Sydney and Mumbai.

The U.S. rally overnight snapped a two-day skid driven by fears that the spread of the coronavirus could snag global economic growth.