CORONAVIRUS: JAPAN AND US FLY CITIZENS HOME AS CHINA DEATH TOLL JUMPS

Japan and the US have airlifted hundreds of their citizens from Wuhan, the centre of the coronavirus outbreak, as officials in China said the death toll from the disease had risen sharply overnight to 132, with nearly 1,500 new cases in the country, bringing the total number of people diagnosed to nearly 6,000.

• A government-chartered plane carrying 206 Japanese nationals arrived in Tokyo from Wuhan on Wednesday morning. Two showed symptoms of pneumonia following scans, but a coronavirus diagnosis has not been confirmed, hospital representatives said. Two more have been admitted to hospital. Seven others with symptoms such as coughs and fever will undergo tests.

• The rest of the passengers were sent home with instructions to stay in and not mix with people for 14 days. The Japanese authorities have dispatched a second plane to Wuhan to collect more of the 450 nationals awaiting evacuation.

• Pressure is mounting on China to control the spread of the disease. The country’s national health commission said on Wednesday that the total number of deaths from the flu-like virus rose by 26 on Tuesday, with almost all of the new cases in Hubei province.


A CHARTERED AIRCRAFT OPERATED BY ALL NIPPON AIRWAYS PREPARES TO LEAVE TOKYO FOR WUHAN. Photograph: Jiji Press/EPA

Japan and the US have airlifted hundreds of their citizens from Wuhan, the centre of the coronavirus outbreak, as officials in China said the death toll from the disease had risen sharply overnight to 132, with nearly 1,500 new cases in the country, bringing the total number of people diagnosed to nearly 6,000.


A government-chartered plane carrying 206 Japanese nationals arrived in Tokyo from Wuhan on Wednesday morning. Two showed symptoms of pneumonia following scans, but a coronavirus diagnosis has not been confirmed, hospital representatives said. Two more have been admitted to hospital. Seven others with symptoms such as coughs and fever will undergo tests.


The rest of the passengers were sent home with instructions to stay in and not mix with people for 14 days. The Japanese authorities have dispatched a second plane to Wuhan to collect more of the 450 nationals awaiting evacuation.


UNICEF SAID IT HAD SHIPPED SIX TONNES OF RESPIRATORY MASKS AND PROTECTIVE SUITS TO SHANGHAI TO PROTECT HEALTH WORKERS. “THIS CORONAVIRUS IS SPREADING AT A BREAKNECK SPEED AND IT IS IMPORTANT TO PUT ALL THE NECESSARY RESOURCES INTO HALTING IT,” SAID UNICEF’S EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, HENRIETTA FORE. “WE MAY NOT KNOW ENOUGH ABOUT THE VIRUS’S IMPACT ON CHILDREN OR HOW MANY MAY BE AFFECTED – BUT WE DO KNOW THAT CLOSE MONITORING AND PREVENTION ARE KEY. TIME IS NOT ON OUR SIDE.”

Pressure is mounting on China to control the spread of the disease. The country’s national health commission said on Wednesday that the total number of deaths from the flu-like virus rose by 26 on Tuesday, with almost all of the new cases in Hubei province. The governor of Hubei said the city of Huanggang, one of more than a dozen in the province under virtual lockdown, was suffering an especially severe outbreak, with 324 cases and five deaths.


Unicef said it had shipped six tonnes of respiratory masks and protective suits to Shanghai to protect health workers. “This coronavirus is spreading at a breakneck speed and it is important to put all the necessary resources into halting it,” said Unicef’s executive director, Henrietta Fore. “We may not know enough about the virus’s impact on children or how many may be affected – but we do know that close monitoring and prevention are key. Time is not on our side.”


The total number of confirmed cases rose to 5,974 – overtaking the 5,327 confirmed cases in mainland China during the severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) epidemic. The Sars outbreak killed more than 770 people globally, including 349 in mainland China. The death rate from Sars, caused by a more virulent member of the coronavirus family than the Wuhan strain appears to be, was more than 10%. So far, the death rate among confirmed cases of coronavirus is 2%, and may be less if there are many mild cases that do not end up in hospital, as experts believe.


The first cases in the Middle East were reported in the United Arab Emirates. Four members of a Chinese family who had been in Wuhan and arrived in the UAE on 16 January for a visit were confirmed to have the virus. One member of the family sought medical help, reporting feeling unwell, a week after their arrival.


All four are in a stable condition and under medical observation, the health ministry said. The Gulf Cooperation Council’s (GCC) health committee met on Wednesday in the Saudi capital of Riyadh to discuss the virus and to unify Gulf efforts to prevent its spread, Bahrain’s state news agency BNA said.


There have been several suspected cases in African countries, although none have yet been confirmed.


Officials in the US, meanwhile, said a chartered plane had landed in Anchorage, Alaska, with about 240 US citizens onboard, including staff from the US consulate in Wuhan.


The plane was to make a refuelling stop in Alaska before flying on to southern California, but passengers were to be re-screened in Anchorage for the virus, and hospitals were prepared to treat or quarantine people who may be infected.


“These travellers will be carefully screened and monitored to protect their health, as well as the health and safety of their fellow Americans,” the US state department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said.


British Airways said on Wednesday it had suspended all direct flights to and from mainland China after British authorities warned against “all but essential” travel to the country. The airline’s website shows no direct flights to China were available in January and February.

“We apologise to customers for the inconvenience, but the safety of our customers and crew is always our priority,” BA said in an statement.


Air France suspended its three weekly flights to Wuhan last week, but as of Wednesday morning said it was maintaining its 23 weekly flights to Beijing and Shanghai.


Cathay Pacific, which is based in Hong Kong, said it would gradually reduce capacity by 50% or more on its routes to mainland China from Thursday through to the end of March, while Indonesia’s Lion Air said it was halting all its flights to and from China. Other airlines said they were reducing their China services.