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Coronavirus death toll surges to 638

Chinese health officials on Friday confirmed there were more than 31,000 cases of the novel coronavirus nationwide.

Twenty-four countries have recorded at least one confirmed case of the disease. Photo by Stephen Shaver/UPI
Twenty-four countries have recorded at least one confirmed case of the disease. Photo by Stephen Shaver/UPI | License Photo

Feb. 6 (UPI) -- The global death toll from a deadly new virus skyrocketed to more than 600 as Chinese health officials reported 73 new fatalities over Thursday and confirmed the number of infected surpassed 30,000.

Health officials reported the new figures early Friday, explaining 69 of the newly reported deaths occurred in the disease's epicenter, Hubei province, with 64 of them reported in the central Chinese city of Wuhan where the disease is believed to have emerged from.

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As of midnight Thursday, the global death toll from the novel coronavirus -- named 2019-nCoV -- stands at 638 with 619 of those deaths occurring in Hubei.

One of those deaths reported Friday was that of a 34-year-old Chinese doctor who was accused by law enforcement of "spreading rumors" about the coronavirus during the initial stages of its outbreak in early December.

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Li Wenliang, an ophthalmologist at Wuhan Central Hospital, died at 2:58 a.m. Friday after "emergency treatment" failed, his hospital announced in a statement.

"We deeply deplore and mourn [his death]," the hospital said.

Li was accused by law enforcement officials in Wuhan of spreading rumors about the disease after warning friends that his hospital was seeing patients with an unusual pneumonia that was comparable to SARS, which killed some 800 people in China and Hong Kong in the early 2000s.

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Earlier this week, it was confirmed that he had contracted the disease he had tried to warn others about.

On Friday, national and Hubei health officials reported 3,143 new cases nationwide. The majority of the newly confirmed cases totaling 2,447 were reported in Hubei with 1,501of those reported in Wuhan, ballooning the number of confirmed coronavirus cases nationwide to 31,161.

Outside of mainland China there have only been two deaths -- one in Hong Kong and one in the Philippines. Twenty-four countries aside from China have recorded at least one confirmed case of the disease equalling at least 216 cases, according to the World Health Organization.

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Taiwan on Thursday confirmed two new cases of pneumonia caused by the coronavirus.

The Ministry of Health and Welfare identified the two patients in a statement as a man in his 40s and a woman in her 20s.

The man had worked in Wuhan in December before traveling to mainland China mid-January. He returned to Taiwan Sunday before developing a fever and other symptoms the next day.

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The woman had been living in Wuhan before traveling to Taiwan Jan. 21. On Saturday, she began to experience symptoms.

"At present, they are being treated in isolation wards," the health ministry said. "The condition is stable."

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The two new cases are the 12th and 13th confirmed in Taiwan, it said.

Taiwan also announced effective immediately it would be banning port calls by cruise liners to prevent further spread of the disease, its latest move to stem further infection of the island.

On Wednesday, it raised its travel advisory for travelers from Hong Kong and Macau, ordering residents with "a history of travel to China, Hong Kong and Macau" to a 14-day home quarantine on returning to Taiwan.

Earlier in the week, it announced that starting Friday foreign nationals who have visited or lived in mainland China within 14 days of the date would be barred from entering the island.

The news of the measures came as the Taiwan Centers for Disease Control said Thursday it was notified by Japan that a Taiwanese national quarantined on a cruise ship off the Asian nation's coast has been diagnosed with the disease.

Princess Cruises instituted a quarantine Wednesday for some 3,700 passengers and crew aboard a ship anchored at Yokohama, Japan, after 10 people aboard tested positive for the coronavirus.

"The passenger has been hospitalized in the designated hospital in Japan to receive medical treatment in an isolation ward," Taiwan's Central Epidemic Command Center said in a statement. "The health authority has requested that other Taiwanese passengers remain in the cabin and at least under quarantine on board for 14 days."

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Meanwhile, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said 36 citizens who were evacuated from Wuhan upon an Air New Zealand flight have arrived safely on Christmas Island where they will join more than 200 others currently under a 14-day quarantine.

"Our focus remains on keeping Australians safe," he said via Twitter.

The flight departed Wuhan on Wednesday with 190 passengers for New Zealand.

On Wednesday, WHO said it is seeking $675 million to fund an international preparedness and response plan that will run from February through April to try and prevent further spread of the disease.

The new plan focuses on establishing international coordination and operational support, scaling up country readiness and response operations and accelerating priority research and innovation.

"My biggest worry is that there are countries today who do not have the systems in place to detect people who have contracted with the virus, even if it were to emerge," said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in a statement. "Urgent support is needed to bolster weak health systems to detect, diagnose and care for people with the virus, to prevent further transmission and protect health workers."

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