Head of WHO-led coronavirus probe team leaving for China

Head of WHO-led coronavirus probe team leaving for China

News conference on the novel coronavirus in Geneva
Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus attends a news conference on the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) in Geneva, Switzerland February 6, 2020. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

GENEVA: The head of a World Health Organization-led international team investigating the coronavirus outbreak will leave for China on Monday or Tuesday, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Saturday (Feb 8).

Tedros, asked whether the team would include experts from the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC), told a press conference on Saturday: "We hope so."

The death toll in mainland China rose to 723 on Saturday, the WHO said, looking likely to pass the 774 deaths recorded globally during the 2002-2003 outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).

Across mainland China, the number of cases stood at 34,598.

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Dr. Mike Ryan, WHO's top emergency expert, said there had been a stabilisation in the number of new cases reported from Hubei province, the epicentre of the virus, over the past four days.

"That's good news, and may reflect the impact of the control measures put in place. But remember there are also lots of suspected cases still to be tested."

Ryan, speaking later to Reuters, said: "The daily number of new cases has been stable over a four-day period. The same number each day, around."

He added, "It's not a decline. That can just mean four days of relative calm before it accelerates."

China has struggled to contain the current virus despite having placed around 56 million people under effective lockdown in Hubei and its provincial capital, Wuhan.

Other cities far from the epicentre have also taken measures to keep people indoors, limiting the number of individuals who can leave their home.

Friday's death of a 34-year-old Wuhan doctor who was punished for raising the alarm about the virus in December sparked an outpouring of grief and anger over the government's handling of the crisis.

The virus has spread to two dozen countries, prompting several governments to ban arrivals from China and urge their citizens to avoid travelling to the country. Some have recommended their citizens leave China.

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Major airlines have suspended flights to and from China.

At least 61 people on board a cruise ship off Japan have tested positive for the new coronavirus, with thousands of passengers and crew facing a two-week quarantine.

The contagion emerged in the Hubei provincial capital of Wuhan in December, later spreading to the rest of China and more than two dozen other countries, prompting the World Health Organization to declare a global emergency.

The number of confirmed infections in China could still grow significantly, with the health commission saying that more than 26,000 other people were "suspected" of having contracted the virus.

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Source: Reuters/nh