Coronavirus outbreak declared global health emergency as death toll spikes to 213

K J M Varma

Beijing, Jan 31 (PTI) The death toll in China's coronavirus epidemic spiked to 213 and total infections reached 9,692, the government said on Friday as the World Health Organisation declared the outbreak that has spread to more than a dozen countries, including India, as a global health emergency.

The death toll rose to 213, mostly of elderly people, after 43 new deaths all but one in Hubei, the epicentre of the outbreak, China's national health authorities said, adding that 1,982 new cases had been confirmed, bringing the total to 9,692.

About 20 countries, including India, the UK, US, South Korea, Japan and France, have reported confirmed cases of the virus in travellers coming from China.

The WHO, which held an emergency meeting in Geneva on Thursday, on declared the outbreak a global health emergency, a rarely used designation that could lead to improved international co-ordination in tackling the disease.

'Our greatest concern is the potential for the virus to spread to countries with weaker health systems,' WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said as he announced the virus as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC).

Reacting to the WHO announcement, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying in a press statement said, 'Since the outbreak of the novel coronavirus epidemic, the Chinese government has been taking the most comprehensive and rigorous prevention and control measures with a high sense of responsibility for people's health.' Many of these measures go well beyond the requirements of the International Health Regulations, she said.

'We have full confidence and capability to win this fight against the epidemic,' said the spokesperson.

She said that at the same time, the Chinese side informed relevant sides and shared the genome sequence of the coronavirus in a timely manner with openness, transparency and a responsible attitude.

Hua said China has been in close communication and cooperation with WHO.

'WHO experts recently conducted a field trip to Wuhan. Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus also visited China and discussed containment and mitigation of the 2019-nCoV with the Chinese side,' she said.

Noting that Tedros commended China's efforts and spoke highly of China's great contribution to the world by fighting against the novel coronavirus, Hua said the country will continue working with WHO and other countries to safeguard regional and global public health security, Xinhua news agency quoted her statement.

A number of airlines have halting or reduced flights to China as the country struggles to contain the spread of the deadly novel coronavirus.

China on Friday announced that it will send charter flights to bring home residents of coronavirus-hit Hubei province, especially capital Wuhan, from abroad.

The Foreign Ministry spokesperson in a statement said citizens from Hubei province will be brought back in view of 'practical difficulties' they were facing abroad.

The move followed Chinese officials' announcement that about five million people from Hubei province and capital Wuhan, the epicentre of coronavirus, have travelled out of the region before the province was officially closed on January 23.

These people are reported to have travelled within China and abroad to avail the weeklong holidays of the Chinese New Year and the ongoing Spring Festival.

India on Friday sent Air India's 423-seater jumbo B747 plane to Wuhan to evacuate Indian nationals.The government has reached out to over 600 Indians living in China's Hubei province, the epicentre of the outbreak, to ascertain their willingness to be brought back to India.

The number of confirmed cases exceeds the 8,096 cases from SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) that spread to more than two dozen countries in 2002-03, and killed 774 people, mostly in China and Hong Kong. PTI KJV PMS AKJ PMS