The new coronavirus has been declared a global emergency by the World Health Organization, as the outbreak continues to spread outside China.
“The main reason for this declaration is not what is happening in China but what is happening in other countries,” said WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
The concern is that it could spread to countries with weaker health systems.
Meanwhile, the US has told its citizens not to travel to China.
The state department issued a level four warning – having previously urged Americans to “reconsider” travel to China – and said any citizens in China “should consider departing using commercial means”.
China has said it will send charter plans to bring back Hubei province residents who are overseas “as soon as possible”.
A foreign ministry spokesman said this was because of the “practical difficulties” Chinese citizens have faced abroad. Hubei is where the virus emerged.
At least 213 people in the China have died from the virus, mostly in Hubei, with almost 10,000 cases nationally.
The WHO said there had been 98 cases in 18 other countries, but no deaths.
Most international cases are in people who had been to Wuhan in Hubei.
However in eight cases – in Germany, Japan, Vietnam and the United States – patients were infected by people who had travelled to China.
GettyCoronavirus outbreak outside China
- 18The number of countries with cases
- 14Cases in Thailand and Japan
- 11South Korea
- 8Australia and Malaysia
- 5France and USA
Source: WHO and local authorities
Speaking at a news conference in Geneva, Dr Tedros described the virus as an “unprecedented outbreak” that has been met with an “unprecedented response”.
He praised the “extraordinary measures” Chinese authorities had taken, and said there was no reason to limit trade or travel to China.
“Let me be clear, this declaration is not a vote of no confidence in China,” he said.
But various countries have taken steps to close borders or cancel flights, and companies like Google, Ikea, Starbucks and Tesla have closed their shops or stopped operations.
The US Commerce Secretary, Wilbur Ross, has said the outbreak could “accelerate the return of jobs to North America”.
Preparing other countries
What happens if this virus finds its way into a country that cannot cope?
Many low- and middle-income countries simply lack the tools to spot or contain it. The fear is it could spread uncontrollably and that it may go unnoticed for some time.
Remember this is a disease which emerged only last month – and yet there are already almost 10,000 confirmed cases in China.
The 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa – the largest in human history – showed how easily poorer countries can be overwhelmed by such outbreaks.
And if novel coronavirus gets a significant foothold in such places, then it would be incredibly difficult to contain.
We are not at that stage yet – 99% of cases are in China and the WHO is convinced the country can control the outbreak there.
But declaring a global emergency allows the WHO to support lower- and middle-income countries to strengthen their disease surveillance – and prepare them for cases.
How unusual is this declaration?
The WHO declares a Public Health Emergency of International Concern when there is “an extraordinary event which is determined… to constitute a public health risk to other states through the international spread of disease”.
It has previously declared five global public health emergencies:
- Swine flu, 2009 – The H1N1 virus spread across the world in 2009, with death toll estimates ranging from 123,000 to 575,400
- Polio, 2014 – Although closer than ever to eradication in 2012, polio numbers rose in 2013
- Zika, 2016 – The WHO declared Zika a public health emergency in 2016 after the disease spread rapidly through the Americas
- Ebola, 2014 and 2019 – The first emergency over the virus lasted from August 2014 to March 2016 as almost 30,000 people were infected and more than 11,000 died in West Africa. A second emergency was declared last year as an outbreak spread in DR Congo
How is China handling the outbreak?
A confirmed case in Tibet means the virus has reached every region in mainland China. According to the country’s National Health Commission, 9,692 cases have tested positive.
The central province of Hubei, where nearly all deaths have occurred, is in a state of lockdown. The province of 60 million people is home to Wuhan, the heart of the outbreak.
The city has effectively been sealed off and China has put numerous transport restrictions in place to curb the spread of the virus.
People who have been in Hubei are also being told to work from home until it is considered safe for them to return.
The virus is affecting China’s economy, the world’s second-largest, with a growing number of countries advising their citizens to avoid all non-essential travel to the country.
How is the world responding?
Voluntary evacuations of hundreds of foreign nationals from Wuhan are under way.
The UK, Australia, South Korea, Singapore and New Zealand are expected to quarantine all evacuees for two weeks to monitor them for symptoms and avoid contagion.
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Australia plans to quarantine its evacuees on Christmas Island, 2,000km (1,200 miles) from the mainland in a detention centre that has been used to house asylum seekers.
In other recent developments:
- Italy suspended flights to China after two Chinese tourists in Rome were diagnosed with the virus; earlier 6,000 people on board a cruise ship were temporarily barred from disembarking
- In the US, Chicago health officials have reported the first US case of human-to-human transmission. Around 200 US citizens have been flown out of Wuhan and are being isolated at a Californian military base for at least 72 hours
- Russia has decided to close its 4,300km (2,670-mile) far-eastern border with China
- Two flights to Japan have already landed in Tokyo. Japan has now raised its infectious disease advisory level for China
- Some 250 French nationals have been evacuated from Wuhan
- India has confirmed its first case of the virus – a student in the southern state of Kerala who was studying in Wuhan
- Israel has barred all flight connections with China
- Papua New Guinea has banned all visitors from “Asian ports”
- North Korea will suspend all flights and trains to and from China, said the British ambassador to North Korea
Coronavirus deaths top 10,000 worldwide as lockdown measures tighten further
The U.S. warned Americans to avoid all international travel and told citizens abroad to return now or face an “indefinite” absence, and California’s governor asked all 40 million residents to stay home, to try to slow the new coronavirus pandemic toll that on Friday surpassed 10,000 people worldwide.
Wuhan, China, where the outbreak began, offered a ray of hope with no new infections reported for a second day in a row and only 39 cases reported nationwide — all of them brought from the outside, the government said.
In a measure of how the fortunes of East and West have shifted, a Chinese Red Cross official heading an aid delegation to Milan castigated Italians for failing to take their national lockdown seriously. Sun Shuopeng said he was shocked to see so many people walking around, using public transportation and eating out in hotels.
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“Right now we need to stop all economic activity, and we need to stop the mobility of people,” he said. “All people should be staying at home in quarantine.”
But globally, governments are trying to balance the need to lock down residents with the need to keep food, medicine and other essentials flowing.
French President Emmanuel Macron urged employees to keep working in supermarkets, production sites and other necessary businesses amid stringent restrictions of movement.
“We need to keep the country running”, Macron said.
Italy surpassed China in deaths from the outbreak, and Iran’s official toll was rising quickly as well amid fears it is underreporting the scale of the pandemic.
1:50New restrictions at Canada-U.S. border at the verge of taking effect New restrictions at Canada-U.S. border at the verge of taking effect
Iran accused the United States of helping spread the virus by retaining sanctions that prevent it importing desperately needed medicine and medical equipment.
In other words, while the U.S. is trying to curb the virus internally, it is helping the spread of the virus externally,” Iran’s U.N. mission said in a statement.
Worldwide, the death toll from COVID-19 passed 10,000 and infections exceeded 244,000, according to a Johns Hopkins University tally. Italy, with 60 million citizens, has recorded 3,405 deaths, exceeding the 3,248 in China, a country with a population over 20 times larger.
Though the illness is mild in most people, the elderly are particularly susceptible to serious symptoms. Italy has the world’s second-oldest population, and the vast majority of its dead — 87% — were over 70.
Jonas Schmidt-Chanasit, a virologist at Germany’s Bernhard Nocht Institute for Tropical Medicine, offered another reason for Italy’s high death rate: “That’s what happens when the health system collapses.”
More than 86,000 people have recovered, mostly in China, but the pace is much slower than the spread of the virus. Recovery takes two weeks or so for mild cases but can be up to six weeks for those that turn serious, according to the World Health Organization.
Nations are imposing ever-stricter border controls and lockdowns to keep people at home and keep away outsiders, hoping to slow the spread of the virus while preparing for an onslaught of sick patients. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned of a looming global recession “perhaps of record dimensions.”
In California, Gov. Gavin Newsom said that if strong action wasn’t taken, 56% of the state’s 40 million residents could contract the virus over the next eight weeks. He expanded restrictions on nonessential movement outside of homes, saying it was necessary to control the spread of the virus, which was threatening to overwhelm California’s medical system.
Similar restrictions are in place in virus hotspots like Italy, Spain and central China.
The Trump administration upgraded its already dire warning to Americans against all international travel, and the State Department announced new restrictions on the issuance of passports to U.S. citizens. In Morocco, several hundred Americans are scattered in cities around the country, sleeping on floors in the Marrakech airport, holed up in one of the last hotels open in Rabat and banding together on a Facebook group — U.S. Citizens Trapped in Morocco.
“The airport in Marrakech is crowded. People are touching shoulder to shoulder and many are sleeping on the floor,” said student Corrine Schmaedeke, who managed to get a ticket Thursday to fly home after eight cancellations.
“The U.S. Embassy did nothing to help us,” she said, adding that information was coming instead from the British Embassy.
At home, the U.S. Army prepared mobile military hospitals for deployment in major cities, and motorists waited in long lines for nurses to swab their nostrils at new U.S. drive-thru testing sites. Deaths have reached at least 205 and New York City is rapidly becoming a U.S. epicenter, with more than 4,000 cases.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the state needs to acquire thousands of ventilators, which would help the critically ill breathe, before the outbreak overwhelms hospitals. At a video conference with Trump, governors complained they were having difficulty obtaining such things as swabs and protective gear for doctors and nurses.
“We literally have people in China shopping for ventilators which is one of the largest manufacturers,” Cuomo said.
Damage to the world’s largest economy kept increasing, with the number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits surging by 70,000 last week.
Congress is weighing a proposed $1 trillion emergency package that would dispense relief checks to households in as many as two rounds, the first of which would consist of payments of $1,000 per adult and $500 for each child.
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And New York Mayor Bill de Blasio lashed out at the president as “the Herbert Hoover of your generation,” referring to the man who was president when the stock market crashed in 1929 and the Depression set in.
A Houston hospital that opened its doors to drive-thru testing quickly saw a line of hundreds of vehicles stretching more than a mile. At a white tent, workers in masks and head-to-toe protective gear swabbed motorists. Petra Sanchez waited to find out whether she had the virus.
“I have an 80-year-old dad, and I haven’t been around him for the same reason,” she said. ”I don’t know what I have.”
Perry reported from Wellington, New Zealand. Associated Press reporters around the world contributed to this report.