A historical, normally tourist-heavy area is eerily empty as the deadly coronavirus threatens Beijing on Saturday. Photo by Stephen Shaver/UPI | License Photo
Feb. 10 (UPI) -- Over 1,000 people in China have died from the novel coronavirus, Chinese health officials said Tuesday hours after an advance team of experts from the World Health Organization arrived in the Asian nation.
Officials with China's National Health Commission confirmed a total of 1,016 people have died from the virus, dubbed 2019-nCoV, since patients first started falling ill with the mysterious new disease in early December.
The death toll skyrocketed from Sunday's tally of 908 after 108 people died on Monday, making it the deadliest day on record. The previous record was 97 tallied from the day prior.
Hubei province, the epicenter of the outbreak, accounted for 103 of Monday's deaths, the officials said, with Wuhan, the city of 11 million people believed to be where the virus emerged from, recording 101 of them.
The number of confirmed cases grew to 42,638, up by 2,478 cases from the day before, officials said.
Among the infected are 27 foreigners, China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said Monday in his daily briefing with reporters, adding 22 of them still remain in isolation.
The figure includes two deaths -- that of a U.S. citizen who died Thursday and a Japanese national who died over the weekend.
Geng said the U.S. citizen was a Chinese American who died in Wuhan and whose Chinese family had been in contact with medical officials during his treatment.
"We offer the deepest condolences over the American national's passing," Geng said. "We have notified the U.S. through diplomatic channels and will offer necessary assistance to the U.S. side and the bereaved family."
Health officials said nearly 4,000 patients infected with the virus have been cured and discharged from the hospital.
Worldwide, there have only been two deaths outside mainland China -- one in Hong Kong and one in the Philippines -- with the number of confirmed cases surpassing 300 in 24 countries, according to the World Health Organization.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreysus said Monday that the situation of the epidemic remains unchanged as 99 percent of the infections reside within China and most of them were "mild."
Ghebreysus announced that an advance team of international experts, led by renowned Canadian epidemiologist Dr. Bruce Aylward, arrived in China to lay the groundwork for further experts to arrive.
The WHO's chief said many people are asking about the status of the outbreak and this team, along with an international forum to kick off Tuesday in Geneva, will hopefully be able to better answer those questions.
While spread of the disease outside of China remains slow, he said recent concerns have been raised over new cases of the disease discovered in people who have no travel history to China.
"The detection of these small number of cases could be the spark that becomes a bigger fire but for now it is only a spark," he said. "Our objective remains containment. We call on all countries to use the window of opportunity we have to prevent a bigger fire."
The number of deaths from the 2019-nCoV has exceeded the death toll from the severe acute respiratory syndrome epidemic from November 2002 to July 2003 that killed 774 people, mostly in China and Hong Kong.
In response, Taiwan announced starting Tuesday it was expanding its travel ban to Hong Kong and Macao.
Last week, it limited the issuance of visas to those from the two nearby Chinese regions but increased its precautions Monday due to the severity of the risk of infection, Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council said in a statement.
"Except for business performance activities, internal transfers of multinational enterprises, spouses and minor children who have obtained residence permits," all from Hong Kong and Macau are barred from Taiwan, it said, adding those who do enter the island will be subjected to a 14-day home quarantine.
Taiwan had previously suspended most direct passenger flights with mainland China.
Britain on Monday also declared the transmission of the novel coronavirus constitutes a "serious and imminent threat to public health," hours after it announced its fourth confirmed case of the disease.
"In light of the recent public health emergency from the novel coronavirus originating from Wuhan, secretary of state has made regulations to ensure that the public are protected as far as possible form the transmission of the virus," the Department of Health and Social Care said in a statement.
Two facilities have been designated for the isolation of patients and the province of Hubei has been declared as an "infected area," under the new regulations, it said.
Britain on Sunday confirmed four patients have tested positive for the virus, raising the risk to the public from low to moderate.
"The new case is a known contact of a previously confirmed UK case, and the virus was passed on in France," Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty said in a statement.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said late Sunday that while the spread of the disease outside China remains slow, there are now "concerning instances" of the spread of the disease from people who have not visited China. Most of those who have been sickened with the virus have visited the Asian nation.
"The detection of a small number of cases may indicate more widespread transmission in other countries," he said. "In short, we may only be seeing the tip of the iceberg."
Ghebreyesus said containment of the disease remains the WHO's objective but all countries must prepare for the possible arrival of the virus.
"I reiterate my call on all countries to share what they know about [2019-nCoV] in real time with WHO. I reiterate my call for calm. I reiterate my call for solidarity -- human, financial and scientific solidarity," he said via Twitter. "Any break in solidarity is a victory for the virus."
A WHO-led team of international experts has also been dispatched to China to investigate the outbreak, he said.
The news comes as health experts in Australia's New South Wales announced Monday they have grown the live coronavirus from NSW patients, which will allow health officials worldwide to faster contain the virus' spread.
Health Minister Brad Hazzard said their discovery will expand access to better diagnostic testing for infected patients through better understanding of how the virus behaves and replicates.
"Early and accurate diagnosis of infectious and deadly viruses is critical because undiagnosed patients can unknowingly transmit it to others," he said.
The team of scientists and pathologists were able to grow the virus by sequencing its genome and then growing the live virus from real patients instead of using synthetic materials, Hazzard said.
Professor Dominic Dwyer, NSW's director of public health pathology, said their work will expand access to faster and reliable diagnostic testing.
"Being able to cultivate the novel coronavirus with samples from NSW patients as opposed to trying to mimic it from synthetic specimens is a terrific breakthrough," Dwyer said. "We're proud to be able to share our discovery with the World Health Organization and international researchers and clinicians, so together we ultimately help save lives."
The news comes as Japan's Health Ministry reported 60 new confirmed cases of coronavirus infection on a cruise ship under quarantine in Yokohama, which brings the total number of cases on the ship to 135.
On Sunday, the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare reported a total of 70 cases from the Diamond Princess after an additional six people had fallen ill.
The ministry has tested over 336 of the 3,700 people on the ship that has been quarantined off Yokohama since Monday, but it is considering testing everyone on board.
All of the ill passengers have been removed from the ship and transported to local hospitals for treatment, Japanese health officials said. In addition to the Americans, the newly diagnosed cases include 45 Japanese as well as travelers from Australia, Canada, England, the Philippines and Ukraine, Princess Cruises, which owns the ship, said in a statement.
"We are taking a close look whether we can conduct all the tests," said Katsunobu Kato, the minister of health, labor and welfare.
Another ship owned by the company, the Caribbean Princess, curtailed its planned 14-day cruise in the Caribbean "out of an abundance of caution due to guests reporting symptoms consistent with a mild case of gastrointestinal illness," according to a separate statement released Monday.
The affected passengers are being treated by the ship's onboard medical team, and there are no cases of coronavirus identified among guests or crew, the company said. The ship, with more than 4,100 is scheduled to arrive in Fort Lauderdale on Thursday.
Meanwhile, some 3,600 passengers of a cruise ship named World Dream in Hong Kong have been allowed to leave after four days quarantined on the vessel.
The Hong Kong government also said its confirmed cases rose to 36 after it recorded 10 new cases, nine of which were among the same family who fell ill after sharing a meal.
The Center for Health Protection of the Department of Health said Sunday that 19 relatives shared the meal.
The spread of the disease is also affecting sports, with the Ladies Professional Golf Association announcing Monday it is canceling the 2020 HSBC Women's World Championships scheduled to run Feb. 27 to March 1 in Singapore.
"The health and safety of our players, fans and everyone working on the event is always our highest priority," it said in a statement. "While we are disappointed that these tournaments will not take place this season, we look forward to returning to Asia soon."