China has reported fewer new coronavirus cases on Sunday than the previous day, which it said was evidence that its efforts to slow the spread of the disease appeared to be having some effect.
- China says the total number of new cases is slowing down
- Taiwan has reported its first coronavirus fatality
- US officials in hazmat suits were seen boarding Diamond Princess cruise ship
Within China, authorities reported 2,009 new coronavirus cases on Sunday, down from more than 2,600 new cases the previous day.
The new cases brought the total to 68,500 in mainland China, with 1,665 deaths including 143 reported on Sunday. Outside China, more than 500 cases have been confirmed, mostly of people who travelled from Chinese cities, with five deaths.
Chinese Health Commission spokesman Mi Feng said the slowing rate of new cases was proof that curbs on travel and other drastic measures were having an impact at last.
“The effect of the coronavirus controls is appearing,” Mr Mi told reporters.
The coronavirus, thought to have emerged at a wildlife market in the central province of Hubei, has presented the ruling Communist Party with a huge challenge.
Restrictions were tightened further in Hubei on Sunday with vehicles, apart from essential services, banned from the roads and companies told to stay shut until further notice.
After an extended Lunar New Year holiday, China urgently needs to get back to work. But in some cities streets are still deserted. Many factories have yet to re-open, disrupting supply chains in China and beyond.
WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus praised China’s intensive measures and urged other governments to step up their own anti-virus efforts, saying “it’s impossible to predict which direction this epidemic will take”.
“We must use the window of opportunity we have to intensify our preparedness,” he told foreign policy and security leaders at the Munich Security Conference on Saturday.
“China has bought the world time. We don’t know how much time.”
US passengers disembark cruise
US officials in hazmat suits boarded a cruise liner on Sunday to fly home Americans quarantined for two weeks off Japan.
After being held on board the Diamond Princess since February 3, American passengers were told to get ready for Sunday evening charter flights home from the cruise liner, which accounts for around half of all confirmed coronavirus cases outside China.
Canadian, Italian, South Korean and Hong Kong passengers were expected to follow, after their governments also announced plans to repatriate passengers.
Seventy new cases were confirmed on board the Diamond Princess, bringing the total on the ship to 355.
On board, an announcement from the captain blared over loudspeakers, informing American guests willing to disembark that they were scheduled to leave from 9:00pm (local time)
“Leaving in a few hours. No details. Might be going to Texas or Nebraska,” Gay Courter, one of the American passengers on board, told Reuters.
She said she expected to spend another two weeks in quarantine on US soil.
Another American passenger, Matthew Smith, posted a photo on Twitter showing a fleet of about 11 coaches parked on the shore near the ship to transport US nationals.
American officials, dressed in full hazmat suits and face masks, had visited his room to check if he would disembark. He said he wanted to stay.
The ship has been held in the Japanese port of Yokohama with 3,700 passengers and crew on board.
Those with the disease have been taken to hospital in Japan and no one from the ship has died. Around half of the guests onboard are from Japan.
Countries that have announced plans to fly their citizens home from the ship say they will take them only if they are symptom-free and quarantine them on arrival.
Last week the Australian Embassy confirmed 16 Australians on the ship had the infection, and were all stable and recovering.
The Federal Government is working on plans to evacuate more than 200 Australians still stuck on board the cruise ship.
An Australian medical officer has arrived in Japan to assess the situation but has not been able to board the ship yet.
No way of predicting spread, say experts
Meanwhile, International health officials say they have no way of knowing yet how far the epidemic is going to spread.
Mr Mi, the Chinese health commission spokesman, said the proportion of confirmed cases who were critically ill had fallen to 21.6 per cent on Saturday, from 32.4 cent on January 27.
He said this showed authorities were able to treat patients more quickly, preventing cases from becoming critical.
Another cruise ship, Holland America’s MS Westerdam, docked in Cambodia on Thursday after being rejected by ports in several other countries and territories.
An 83-year-old American woman from it tested positive upon arriving in Malaysia, authorities there said. A second test, at the request of the cruise operator, confirmed the finding.
Taiwan has confirmed its first coronavirus death on Sunday after a taxi driver succumbed to the infectious disease.
Health Minister Chen Shih-chung said during a news conference on Sunday that the deceased person was a 61-year-old man who had diabetes and hepatitis B.
Taiwan has to date accumulated 20 confirmed cases.
The deceased person had not travelled abroad recently and was a taxi driver whose clients were mainly from Hong Kong, Macau and mainland China, the minister said.
One of his family members was also confirmed to have the virus.
The pair constituted Taiwan’s first local transmission cases, the minister said, adding that authorities were trying to find out as soon as possible the source of contraction.
“So far, we are not able to gather his contact history, so we are actively making investigations, hoping to find out the source of the contraction,” Mr Chen said.
The island will on Monday start testing all patients who show symptoms associated with coronavirus and had travelled abroad recently, the health ministry said.
Nepal on Sunday evacuated 175 of its nationals from the Chinese city of Wuhan.
The first fatality in Europe was reported on Saturday, an 80-year-old Chinese man who died at a Paris hospital.
Robin Thompson, an expert in mathematical epidemiology at Britain’s University of Oxford, said that with nearly 50 cases in Europe, a death was not surprising, but there still had not been “sustained person-to-person transmission in Europe”.
More than 100 Germans evacuated from the hard-hit Chinese city of Wuhan, the epicenter of a new coronavirus outbreak, were set to end their prescribed 14-day quarantine period on Sunday.
They have been kept isolated at a military base in the southern town of Germersheim. None of them have tested positive for the disease, German news agency dpa reported.
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