China coronavirus death toll rises to 170; confirmed cases soar to 7,736

K J M Varma

Beijing/Wuhan, Jan 30 (PTI) The deadly coronavirus has hit all provinces in China, including the remote region of Tibet, mostly due to travellers from Wuhan city, the ground zero of the epidemic, as the virus claimed 170 lives, infected 7,736 others and spread to 20 countries, including India.

Chinese health officials on Thursday announced 38 more fatalities mainly from the worst-affected central Hubei province, taking the death toll to 170.

Tibet, which till now remained the only Chinese province untouched by the virus, reported its first case on Thursday, with a resident from Wuhan who travelled to the Himalayan region reporting sick.

As the spread of the virus intensified, many countries, including India, started preparation to evacuate their citizens from Wuhan and other cities in Hubei province.

The virus is causing concern all over the world as the number of cases abroad has gone up to 75, with India and the Philippines reporting their first cases. The condition of the Indian patient, a woman medical student from Wuhan university, was 'stable' and she was kept in an isolation ward at a hospital in Thrissur.

In a big relief for Indians - mostly students and professionals - stranded in Wuhan, the Indian Embassy in Beijing in a note circulated through social media on Thursday said that preparations are on to evacuate them from the virus-hit region on Friday.

'We are preparing for air evacuation from Wuhan tomorrow in the evening. This flight will carry those Indian nationals who are in and around Wuhan and have conveyed consent for their evacuation,' the note said. 'There will be another flight subsequently which will carry those who are from other parts of Hubei province.' Besides India, several other countries including the US, France, Japan, South Korea, are airlifting their nationals from Wuhan.

A large number of people from Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh from the neighbourhood besides African countries were also reportedly stranded in Hubei province.

So far, four Pakistani nationals and two Australians were reported to have been undergoing treatment for the virus in China.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organisation (WHO) will meet in Geneva on Thursday to again consider whether the virus constitutes a global health emergency.

'In the last few days the progress of the virus, especially in some countries, especially human-to-human transmission, worries us,' WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Wednesday.

He named Germany, Vietnam and Japan, where there have been cases of people catching the virus from others who returned from China.

'Although the numbers outside China are still relatively small, they hold the potential for a much larger outbreak,' BBC quoted the WHO chief as saying.

Michael Ryan, head of the WHO Health Emergencies Programme, told the media that 'the whole world needs to be on alert now. The whole world needs to take action.' Chinese President Xi Jinping, who on Tuesday called the virus a 'demon' which should be brought under control, has ordered the military to throw open army hospitals to treat the coronavirus cases.

It is important for the military to step up its organising and leadership functions, enable closer coordination with local authorities, adhere to the principles of scientific treatment and ensure self-protection, Xi was quoted as saying by state-run China Daily.

'Military hospitals must make all-out efforts to accept and treat patients, and research institutions should press ahead with their research and development to contribute to victory against the outbreak,' he said.

Also as it battled to stem the spiralling coronavirus which is causing devastating impact, China on Thursday allocated nearly USD four billion funding to support efforts to contain the dreaded disease across the country.

Separately, Alibaba's Jack Ma Foundation and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation have announced grants for the research to develop a vaccine to counter the deadly virus.

As the virus brought the country to a standstill, concerns are also being raised about its impact on the economy.

China is still in an emergency control mode dealing with the virus threat and not yet started counting the costs and the impact it would have on its already slowing down economy.

The world's second largest economy grew by 6.1 per cent last year, the lowest annual growth rate in 29 years, amid the bruising 18-month long trade war with the US. The government is hoping to halt the slowdown this year after reaching the phase one trade deal with Washington.

But with coronavirus causing devastating impact by virtually bringing the country to halt, analysts say it may have substantial impact on the economy this year.

A number of global airlines, including Air India, British Airways, Lion Air and Indigo airlines have suspended their flights to Chinese cities as Beijing struggled to contain the rapid spread of the virus.

India, the US, the UK and Germany have already issued travel advisories against travelling to China. Beijing too has been asking Chinese not to travel at home and abroad in view of the virus.

Air India suspended its flights on Delhi-Shanghai route from January 31 to February 14. IndiGo airlines also suspended its flights on the Bengaluru-Hong Kong route from February 1 and on the Delhi-Chengdu route from February 1 to 20. PTI KJV ZH AKJ ZH ZH ZH