WHO declares global virus emergency as deaths top 200
WUHAN, CHINA—The World Health Organization (WHO) declared a global emergency over the new coronavirus, as China reported on Friday the death toll had climbed to 213 with nearly 10,000 infections.
The UN health agency based in Geneva had initially played down the threat posed by the disease, but revised its risk assessment after crisis talks.
“Our greatest concern is the potential for the virus to spread to countries with weaker health systems,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a briefing in Geneva on Thursday. “We must all act together now to limit further spread … We can only stop it together.”
Tedros nevertheless said travel and trade restrictions with China were unnecessary to stem the spread of the virus, which has spread to 22 other
countries and regions, with no deaths outside China.
According to international health regulations, the WHO chief will issue temporary recommendations to countries affected after a “public health emergency of international concern” had been declared by WHO’s emergency committee.
The temporary recommendations may include health measures to prevent the international spread of a disease and “avoid unnecessary interference with international traffic.”
WHO’s recommendations to China and other countries include an implementation of comprehensive risk communication strategy, enhancement of public health measures and surveillance, sharing of relevant data on human cases, early detection, isolation and case management.
China’s National Health Commission said there were 1,982 new confirmed cases, bringing the total to just under 10,000.Statistics indicate that just over 2 percent of people infected have died, suggesting that the virus may be less deadly than the coronaviruses behind the 2002-2003 Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS).The US Department of State warned Americans on Friday not to travel to China “due to novel coronavirus first identified in Wuhan, China.”
Many other countries have already urged their citizens not to visit China, while some have banned entry for travelers from Wuhan, where the virus first surfaced.Canceled flights
Airlines began canceling flights servicing China on Wednesday, and more followed suit on Thursday.Israel barred all flights from China, while Russia said it was closing its far eastern border with China over the outbreak.
Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said all air traffic between Italy and China would stop.
An increasing number of airlines have stopped flying to mainland China, including Air France, KLM SA, British Airways, Lufthansa and Virgin Atlantic, while others have reduced flights.
Pilots and flight attendants are also demanding airlines stop flights to China, with American Airlines’ pilots filing a lawsuit seeking an immediate halt.
The Allied Pilots Association, which represents American Airlines pilots, cited “serious, and in many ways still unknown, health threats posed by the coronavirus.”
American had no immediate comment on the lawsuit but said it would cancel flight from Los Angeles to Beijing and Shanghai starting February, but continue flights from Dallas.
The American Airlines’ flight attendants union said it supported the pilots’ lawsuit and called on the company and the US government to “err on the side of caution and halt all flights to and from China.”
Pilots at United Airlines, the largest US airline to China, will be allowed to drop their trip without pay, according to a Wednesday memo from their union.
United announced on Thursday another 332 US-China flight cancellations between February and March 28, though it will continue operating roundtrip flights from San Francisco to Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong.
Beijing has taken extreme steps to stop the spread of the virus, including effectively quarantining more than 50 million people in Wuhan and surrounding Hubei province.
Leaving by foot
But people were leaving and entering Hubei by foot over a bridge spanning the Yangtze River.
The Yangtze is dividing line between Jiujiang in Jiangxi province and Huanggang in neighbouring Hubei, one of the cities hit hardest by the coronavirus outbreak and now sealed off from the rest of China to try to contain the pathogen.
The foot traffic over the Yangtze shows the lockdown is permeable, raising doubts over its effectiveness.
Thousands of foreigners have been trapped in Wuhan since it was sealed off last week.
Japan and the United States on Wednesday became the first countries to airlift their citizens from Wuhan.
Britain was planning an evacuation of around 200 of its citizens early Friday.A French plane also left Wuhan on Friday.
Australia and New Zealand were among others organizing similar operations.
Stock markets, which tumbled on Thursday due to the rising death toll in the world’s second-biggest economy, steadied slightly on Friday after WHO praised China’s efforts to contain the virus.
But economists fear its impact could be bigger than SARS, which killed about 800 people and cost the global economy an estimated $33 billion, as China’s share of the world economy is now far greater.
The virus impact could “reverberate globally,” hitting supply chains, Moody’s Investors Service said, adding, “global companies operating in the affected area may face output losses as a result of the evacuation of workers.”
Toyota, Ikea, Starbucks, Tesla, McDonald’s, Volkswagen and tech giant Foxconn were among the corporate giants temporarily freezing production or closing large numbers of outlets in China. US Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell said the coronavirus posed a fresh risk to the world economy. —WITH REPORTS FROM INQUIRER RESEARCH
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