China battles coronavirus outbreak: All the latest updates

Lion Air and British Airways among airlines cancelling some or all flights to China after governments issue warnings.

China virus

The death toll in China from a deadly new coronavirus rose to 132 with the number of cases reaching nearly 6,000 – more than during the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) epidemic of 2002-03 – as Japan and the United States began evacuating hundreds of citizens from Wuhan, the city at the centre of the outbreak.

Authorities said on Wednesday that the number of confirmed cases across the country climbed to 5,974, while the death toll nationwide rose by 26.

All of those new deaths were in Hubei Province except for one, which was in a province just to the north. Wuhan is the capital of Hubei.

More than 56 million people in almost 20 Chinese cities, including Wuhan, have been prevented from travelling in an attempt to curb the spread of the virus during the Lunar New Year or spring festival, traditionally China’s busiest travel season.

The director-general of the World Health Organization (WHO), Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, met China’s President Xi Jinping on Tuesday.

The agency has acknowledged the respiratory illness is an emergency in China but said last week it was too early to declare the outbreak a public health emergency of international concern. It has described the global risk from the virus as high. 

Here are the latest updates:

Wednesday, January 29

Restrictions for airlines flying to China under discussion: US official

The White House is considering further restrictions on US airlines flying to and from China in addition to voluntary restrictions that the companies have put into place, President Donald Trump’s economic adviser Larry Kudlow said on Wednesday.

Kudlow said the matter was under discussion but declined to give further details.

Kudlow also said that officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) were going to China to help with the coronavirus outbreak at China’s invitation.

Canada draws on lessons from SARS to address novel coronavirus

While the three patients in Canada are in isolation and officials say the risk remains low, Canada’s approach to addressing the mysterious coronavirus has been driven by the lessons learned during the SARS outbreak more than 16 years ago.

Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) was another respiratory coronavirus that originated in China, infecting more than 8,000 people worldwide and killing more than 900.

Outside of Asia, Canada was hit the hardest by SARS, accounting for 438 suspected cases and 44 deaths. The virus was an unprecedented challenge to modern healthcare systems, especially in Toronto where the cases were concentrated.

Nearly 17 years later, experts say Canadian healthcare workers are better trained, global communication has improved, more efficient plans are in place for outbreaks and there has been a “revolution” in virus detection – although testing is still far from instantaneous.

Read more here.

Russia announces measures to prevent new virus from spreading

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Tatiana Golikova said that the land border with China will remain closed to car traffic until March 1.

She said all train connections except for one train from Moscow to Beijing will be halted starting at midnight Thursday.

Golikova said authorities will make a decision on planes between Russia and China in the coming days.

She said Chinese students who left on Lunar New Year vacation will be asked not to resume their studies in Russian universities until March 1.

Google temporarily shutting down all China offices

Alphabet Inc’s Google is temporarily shutting down all its offices in China, technology website The Verge reported.

The shutdown includes all offices in mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan, according to the report.

Five people in France confirmed to have coronavirus

The daughter of a Chinese tourist who is seriously ill in a Paris hospital has become the fifth person in France to be confirmed with the coronavirus, officials said.

“A fifth case has been detected,” Health Minister Agnes Buzyn told a news briefing. “It’s the daughter of the Chinese tourist who was hospitalised recently in intensive care in a serious condition,” Buzyn added.

The woman in her thirties, “whose condition has worsened, who needs oxygen,” has also been placed in intensive care, Buzyn said.

The minister said a first plane was due to fly on Wednesday evening to Wuhan to repatriate 200 French people stranded there.

Canada to evacuate Canadians from flu-hit Chinese region

Canada will evacuate about 160 of its citizens from China, and it is urging other Canadians to avoid non-essential travel to China, the foreign minister said.

Foreign Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne said the country is in the process of obtaining diplomatic approval for the flight, and added that he did not know how many days it would take to complete the evacuation.

African nations take first measures to stop spread of Chinese virus

Nigeria issued a travel advisory advising “all Nigerians and persons intending to travel to China” to delay their plans unless the trip is “extremely essential”.

People arriving from China or any country with a “major outbreak” of the disease are advised to stay at home for at least two weeks if they develop any symptoms, according to the advisory issued by Health Minister Osagie Ehanire.

Equatorial Guinea, meanwhile, said it had quarantined four travellers who had arrived from Beijing.

In Mauritania, the Chinese embassy said China had asked its nationals who have recently arrived or returned to the country to remain confined for at least 14 days.

Coronavirus stokes Asian discrimination fears in Toronto

Canada has identified only three cases of the new coronavirus so far, but there are fears a more serious outbreak could stoke anti-Asian sentiment in scenes reminiscent of the SARS epidemic that killed dozens in the Toronto area in the early 2000s.

More than 9,000 people signed a petition urging one of the area’s school boards to keep children whose family members recently returned from China out of classrooms, and some businesses in Toronto’s Chinatown are already recording a slowdown.

Toronto Mayor John Tory pushed back hard against the suggestion that Chinese-Canadian businesses should be avoided, or individuals travelling from China should be quarantined, calling it “entirely inconsistent” with the advice of healthcare professionals.

British Airways, Iberia suspend direct flights to mainland China

British Airways has suspended all direct flights to and from mainland China., the airline’s website, shows no direct flights to mainland China are available to book in January or February, but the airline said in an email that the cancellations were in effect until January 31 while it assesses the situation.

Direct flights to the Chinese-ruled autonomous region of Hong Kong were unaffected.

Iberia, part of the IAG group along with BA, said it was temporarily suspending all flights to Shanghai, its only mainland Chinese destination, “because of coronavirus”.

Air France reduces China flights

Air France said it would reduce its flight schedule to Beijing and Shanghai this week.

Starting on Friday, the airline will operate one daily service to each destination instead of the previous 10 weekly flights to Beijing and 13 to Shanghai, a spokeswoman for parent company Air France-KLM said.

KLM says it will scrap some flights to China

KLM, the Dutch arm of Air France KLM, will scrap some flights to China, it said.

Starting on Friday, direct flights to Chengdu and Hangzhou will be suspended, while the number of flights to Shanghai will be reduced from 11 to seven per week.

Service to Beijing has not been affected, KLM said in a statement.

Trump spoke to China’s Xi, US working closely with China

US President Donald Trump said he had spoken with Chinese President Xi Jinping and the United States was working very closely with China on the coronavirus outbreak.

“We’re very much involved with them right now on the virus that’s going around … I spoke to President Xi. We’re working very closely with China,” Trump said at a White House ceremony to sign a new North American trade deal with Canada and Mexico.

McDonald’s closes all branches in virus-hit Chinese province

US fast-food giant McDonald’s said it closed all of its restaurants in Hubei province.

McDonald’s CEO Chris Kempczinski called the situation “fluid” and “concerning”, and said the chain decided to close all of its restaurants in Hubei, which amount to “several hundred”.

But 3,000 outlets elsewhere in China remain open, he said during a call to discuss the company’s fourth-quarter financial results.

“Right now, as you would expect, our priority’s really on our employees, on our customers, doing everything we can to make sure that they are safe and taken care of,” Kempczinski said, adding that the company would establish a special team to deal with the outbreak.

UK holds crisis meeting ahead of Wuhan evacuation

The UK is preparing to evacuate and quarantine about 200 nationals stranded in Wuhan, the government said.

Downing Street said the civilian charter flight from the Chinese city would leave on Thursday but did not confirm where it would land in the UK.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock meanwhile chaired an emergencies committee meeting to discuss the planned measures, as the preparations gained pace and calls mounted at home for action.

Americans flown from China virus zone arrive in California

A plane evacuating 201 Americans from Wuhan arrived at a Southern California military base after everyone aboard passed a health screening test in Anchorage, where the aircraft had stopped to refuel.

The jet landed shortly after 8 am at March Air Reserve Base about 96km (60 miles) east of Los Angeles.

A ground crew dressed in white approached the aircraft shortly after it landed and three charter-style buses parked near the plane.

Finland confirms its first coronavirus case

A Chinese tourist visiting Finland has been diagnosed with the coronavirus, becoming the first confirmed case in the Nordic country, Finnish health authorities say.

The 32-year-old woman was admitted to Lapland Central Hospital in the northern city of Rovaniemi and has been isolated, broadcaster YLE reports.

She is reported to have left the Wuhan area in China five days ago.

WHO panel to reconvene to decide if virus is global emergency

The World Health Organization’s Emergency Committee will meet on Thursday, the third time in a week, to evaluate whether the new coronavirus spreading from China now constitutes an international emergency, the WHO said.

“The Committee will advise the Director-General on whether the outbreak constitutes a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC), and what recommendations should be made to manage it,” the WHO said in a statement issued in Geneva ahead of a news briefing by senior WHO expert Mike Ryan on return from China.

The Emergency Committee, composed of 16 independent experts, twice last week declined to declare a global emergency.

Al Jazeera attempts to visit China’s coronavirus epicentre (01:42)

UNICEF sends humanitarian supplies to China

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) announced it has shipped six tonnes of humanitarian supplies to China, including masks and protective suits, to help it fight the coronavirus epidemic.

The shipment, which was sent from Denmark, has arrived in Shanghai for onward movement to Wuhan, the city in central China at the epicentre of the outbreak, UNICEF said.

Additional deliveries are expected in the coming days and weeks, it said.

IKEA to close half its stores in China due to virus

Swedish furniture giant Ikea said it had temporarily closed half of its 30 stores in mainland China until further notice.

“In response to the Chinese government’s call for strict and effective disease control, Ikea Retail China will temporarily close around half of the stores in mainland China until further notice, effective from January 29,” the company said in a statement.

Hundreds of foreigners evacuated from China coronavirus epicentre (02:16)

EU Commission issues travel advisory for staff

The European Commission is advising its staff to delay “non-essential” travel to China, the top official in charge of crisis management said.

Commission officials and EU diplomats have been advised “to postpone or suspend all non-essential travels to China”, Crisis Management Commissioner Janez Lenarcic told a news conference

EU staff in China were also recommended not to return to the EU at this stage, he said.

Germany’s Lufthansa suspends all flights to and from China

Germany’s flagship carrier Lufthansa said it was cancelling all its mainland China flights until February 9, including those run by subsidiaries Swiss and Austrian Airlines.

Each of the carriers will fly to their respective destinations in China “one last time” to give passengers and crew “the opportunity to return to Germany, Switzerland and Austria”, the Lufthansa group – one of Europe’s largest airline companies – said in a statement.

Kazakhstan to cut China transport links

Kazakhstan has stopped issuing visas to Chinese citizens and will cut all major transport links with China over the coronavirus, the government said.

Cross-border bus journeys are to stop from Wednesday, followed by the suspension of passenger train services from Saturday, the government said in a statement.

Regular flights between the two countries will be suspended from February 3.

Kazakhstan’s state rail operator said that the measures would not affect freight trains passing through Kazakhstan on a section on the China-Europe railroad.

What’s the economic impact of China’s coronavirus outbreak?

US citizens pass health test after being evacuated from China

A plane evacuating more than 200 Americans from Wuhan, the Chinese city at the centre of the coronavirus outbreak, continued on to southern California after everyone aboard passed a health screening test in Anchorage, where the aircraft had stopped to refuel.

The US government chartered the plane to fly out diplomats from its consulate in Wuhan.

All 201 passengers had already been through two screenings in China and were screened twice more in Anchorage by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Americans will undergo additional health screenings in California and finish the repatriation process there.

Chinese women’s football team isolated in Australia

China’s women’s national football team has been isolated in an Australian hotel because of fears from a new virus, Queensland health authorities said.

Jeannette Young, the state’s chief medical officer, told journalists in Brisbane that the 32-member team left Wuhan, the city at the centre of the coronavirus outbreak, on January 22 and would remain in their hotel until February 5.

Young said the team members are “all perfectly well” at this stage but would be monitored by medical staff for any signs of illness.

Brisbane, Australia [File: Mark Baker/AP]

China calls for more vegetable output amid virus outbreak

China’s agriculture ministry has urged a boost in vegetable production to guarantee ample supplies and stable prices amid the coronavirus outbreak.

The ministry encouraged farms to increase the production of fast-growing vegetables, and also asked local authorities to reduce transportation costs in order to ensure market supply, according to a statement posted on its website.

International experts to help China with coronavirus

Lion Air to suspend China flights over virus

Indonesia’s Lion Air Group, Southeast Asia’s biggest carrier by fleet size, is halting all its flights to and from China owing to the deadly coronavirus, a company spokesman said.

“All flights to China will be suspended temporarily starting from February 1st until further notice,” Danang Mandala Prihantoro told AFP news agency.

Dozens of flights would be affected on routes to 15 Chinese cities, he added.

Indonesia attracts more than one million Chinese tourists annually and hosts tens of thousands of guest workers.

Read more about moves taken by airlines here.

Indonesia Lion Air
Flights to 15 Chinese cities will be affected [Kurniawan/Reuters]

Several Pakistani students in Wuhan diagnosed  

Four Pakistanis in Wuhan have been diagnosed with the new coronavirus, the special assistant to Pakistan’s prime minister on health, Zafar Mirza, announced at a news conference.

He added that so far, no case of coronavirus has been confirmed in Pakistan.

A large number of Pakistanis residing in China are students, of whom more than 500 are based in Wuhan, Mirza said.

British Airways suspends bookings for China flights

British Airways has suspended bookings on its website for direct flights from London to Beijing and Shanghai until March after warnings over travel to China due to the coronavirus outbreak.

The airline’s website showed no availability of direct flights to China till February. A spokeswoman for the airline said on Wednesday it was “assessing the situation”.

UAE says coronavirus diagnosed in family from China

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has confirmed the first cases in the Middle East of the new deadly coronavirus, saying that doctors were treating a family that had recently come from Wuhan, the city at the centre of the outbreak.

The UAE’s Ministry of Health said it had diagnosed the coronavirus in a four-member Chinese family.

“All family members are in stable condition and the situation was contained by following the most necessary precautionary measures adopted globally when dealing with infected cases”, the ministry said in a statement carried by the state news agency WAM.

Read more here.

Airlines cut flights; Hong Kong stocks tumble

Airlines are cancelling some flights to China after governments issued warnings on the coronavirus and global companies told their employees not to travel.

US carrier United Airlines,  South Korean budget carrier Air Seoul, Taiwan’s China Airlines and EVA Air, Air Canada, Lufthansa and Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific have all suspended flights or are considering doing so. 

China virus airlines
Airlines are stepping up screening measures and reducing flights as more cases of coronavirus emerge [Athit Perawongmetha/Reuters]

US officials have said the White House is weighing whether to suspend flights to the country. “All options for dealing with infectious disease spread have to be on the table, including travel restrictions,” said US Health Secretary Alex Azar.

Read more here.

Meanwhile, stocks in Hong Kong dropped sharply on the first day of trading after the Lunar New Year holiday. Almost every stock fell, sending the benchmark Hang Seng index down by more than 2 percent, with travel, casino, and consumer goods companies among the biggest decliners.

China expert says outbreak could peak in 10 days

The coronavirus outbreak could peak in seven to 10 days, according to respiratory expert Zhong Nanshan, who heads China’s team of experts for the control and prevention of the virus.

Speaking to state news agency Xinhua, Zhong said while it was difficult to estimate the peak, there should be no “large-scale increases” after a week or 10 days. 

“There are two keys to tackling the epidemic; early detection and early isolation,” Zhong said. “They are the most primitive and most effective methods.”

Four Japanese evacuees from Wuhan taken to hospital with fevers

Japanese officials say four evacuees on a flight from the Chinese city of Wuhan have been taken to hospital with cough and fever.

The Tokyo Metropolitan Government confirmed their condition after the flight of 206 evacuees arrived in Tokyo. Passengers on the flight were wearing masks and underwent temperature checks before boarding the flight. Plans were made for all the evacuees to be treated and quarantined depending on their test results.

The four include a woman in her 50s and three men whose ages are from their 30s to 50s. 

Sport-X-Games latest event affected by coronavirus outbreak

An X-Games event scheduled for next month in Chongli in China’s northern Hebei province has been postponed due to the outbreak of the coronavirus, organisers said.

The event, the first winter X-Games to be held in China, was to take place from February 21 to 23 in the same area as the alpine events for the 2022 Winter Olympics, which are officially being hosted by Beijing.

X Games
The X-Games, which were due to be held in China next month and include events like freestyle skiing, have been cancelled [File: NTB Scanpix/Geir Olsen/via Reuters]

First US evacuation flight en route to Alaska from Wuhan

A charter plane evacuating as many as 240 Americans from Wuhan took off before dawn, and is en route to the US, a State Department official told The Associated Press news agency.

The plane will make a refuelling stopover in Alaska before flying on to Ontario, California, the US embassy in China said.

When the plane arrives in Alaska, passengers will clear customs and go through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) screening.

“Then they will put them back on the plane and send them on to their final destination,” said Jim Szczesniak, manager of the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport. He did not know how long the process would take.

With 3 new cases of virus infection in Malaysia, total at 7

Malaysia’s health ministry said on Wednesday three more people had been infected with the new coronavirus, taking the total number of cases in the country to seven, all Chinese citizens.

The new patients are a four-year-old girl, a 52-year-old man and the mother of two children who were confirmed infected earlier, the ministry said in a statement.

China Hong KOng
People around Asia have rushed to buy face masks as the virus spreads; in Hong Kong, people are being given free masks to protect themselves against the coronavirus [Jerome Favre/EPA]

Authorities said the mother had initially tested negative and had stayed in Malaysia to take care of her children – grandsons of a 66-year-old man who tested positive in Singapore for the coronavirus last week.

Malaysia this week imposed a temporary ban on Chinese nationals arriving from Wuhan and surrounding Hubei province.

US increases virus screening to 20 airports: CDC

The US CDC said it “decided to expand to screening travellers from the five airports originally to 20 airports in the United States” based on “evolving information from China” on the coronavirus.

“At this point, Americans should not worry for their own safety,” Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told reporters.

Still, “this is a very fast-moving, constantly changing situation”, Azar added.

Australia to help some citizens leave China, quarantine them on Christmas Island

Australia will help some citizens leave Hubei, and quarantine them on Christmas Island, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Wednesday following a briefing by the Chinese government.

“We have taken a decision this morning to prepare a plan for an operation to provide some assisted departures for isolated and vulnerable Australians in Wuhan and the Hubei province,” Morrison told reporters in Canberra.

Christmas Island is an Australian territory south of the Indonesian island of Java.

Japan plane evacuating citizens arrives Tokyo from virus-hit Wuhan

 A chartered plane carrying 206 Japanese nationals evacuated from Wuhan arrived at Tokyo’s Haneda airport on Wednesday morning.

Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi said on Tuesday that 650 Japanese citizens were hoping to come home, and the government was making arrangements for additional flights.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has stressed that the government will explore all possible measures to bring back any citizens who want to return to Japan.

Japan China
Japan evacuated its first citizens from Wuhan on Wednesday [Kyodo/via Reuters]

Death toll continues to rise and more cases confirmed

China’s National Health Commission said on Wednesday the death toll from the coronavirus outbreak had risen to 132 by the end of Tuesday, with 1,459 new cases confirmed.

The total number of confirmed coronavirus cases in China stood at 5,974 as of the end of Tuesday, it said in a statement. The number of suspected cases was 9,239, it added.


Read updates from Tuesday, January 28 here.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies