Beijing, Jan 31 (IANS) The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the new coronavirus outbreak a global health emergency after the death toll in China rose to 170 , with more than 7,800 cases confirmed in almost 20 countries.
“The main reason for this declaration is not because of what is happening in China, but because of what is happening in other countries,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom posted on Twitter, Efe news reported.
“Let me be clear: this declaration is not a vote of no confidence in China. On the contrary, WHO continues to have confidence in China”s capacity to control the outbreak.”
A group of 15 experts announced the global alert almost one week after its first declaration when the organization assured the outbreak had not reached the status of a global epidemic.
Over 12,000 suspected cases have been detected – which means they have symptoms, but it has not yet been confirmed whether or not they have contracted the coronavirus – and about 82,000 people have been in contact with patients and remain under medical observation.
Most of the new cases and deaths have been registered in the province of Hubei, home to Wuhan, where the outbreak originated and which has been on lockdown since last week.
Hubei is suffering from a “severe shortage” of medical supplies to face the disease, said its governor, Wang Xiaodong.
According to state broadcaster CGTN, Wang held a press conference Wednesday night in which he stressed the seriousness of the outbreak in Huanggang city, which has been on lockdown since last week, and promised that the regional government would not allow the city to become a “second Wuhan.”
Public television quoted a city hospital worker as saying medical supplies there only provide for a day”s work but they were almost sold out and there was nowhere to buy them. The worker added that some doctors were wearing raincoats and putting disposable rubbish bags on their feet for protection.
Meanwhile, Russia, which so far has not reported any cases of coronavirus, has closed its eastern border with China. Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin said the measure had already come into effect to prevent the spread of the virus, which has already been detected in every Chinese province, including Inner Mongolia, Heilongjiang and Jilin, which run along the more than 4,000-kilometer eastern frontier.
The virus was detected in the Philippines and India for the first time since the outbreak.
An Indian overseas student at the University of Wuhan was currently in isolation in the southern state of Kerala, India”s health ministry said, adding that he was stable and being closely monitored.
Meanwhile a 38-year-old woman from Wuhan tested positive for the coronavirus at a hospital in the Philippines, where authorities were carrying out tests on 29 other possible cases.Also, US Health authorities confirmed Thursday the first case of “local” transmission of the Wuhan virus in the country.
A woman in Chicago that got sick in Wuhan passed it on to someone who lives with her.
A Japanese government-chartered flight with 210 Japanese nationals on board arrived Thursday in Tokyo from Wuhan as part of the operation to evacuate hundreds of its citizens.
Singapore also airlifted 92 citizens from Wuhan on Thursday on a commercial Scoot airline flight, which landed at Changi Airport in the morning. Evacuees will undergo a medical examination and must remain in isolation for 14 days.
Thailand has a commercial aircraft on standby waiting for Chinese authorities to give the go-ahead, while Indonesia is also preparing to evacuate its citizens.
New Zealand”s government said Thursday it is also arranging for a charter flight to Wuhan with the capacity for 300 passengers to evacuate its nationals, as well as Pacific Island and Australian citizens, subject to China”s approval.
The United Kingdom”s government confirmed it would evacuate 150 British nationals from Wuhan on Friday. They will share a plane with 20 Spaniards and 30 other passengers.
Dominic Raab, the foreign secretary, told the press: “The safety and security of British nationals is our top priority. Our embassy in Beijing and consular teams remain in close contact with British nationals in the region to ensure they have the latest information they need.”
British authorities previously said that those returning on the specially-chartered flights would be held in quarantine for 14 days.Turkey began the evacuation of 35 of its citizens from Wuhan Thursday as well as 10 people from neighboring Azerbaijan.
Vietnam”s National Administration of Tourism announced the country on Wednesday temporarily stopped receiving tourists from areas in China with confirmed outbreaks and was restricting the movements of Chinese tourists and those who have been to outbreak areas who are already in the country.
The Chinese Football Association on Thursday said it was suspending until further notice all domestic competitions, including the top-tier Chinese Super League. The new season was scheduled to kick off on Feb. 22.
Outside of China, Hong Kong Macau and Taiwan, other countries with confirmed cases include Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, Cambodia, South Korea, Japan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Canada, United Arab Emirates, Finland, Australia (two new cases reported Thursday), France and Germany.
There have been no deaths recorded outside of China.
The symptoms of the new coronavirus, provisionally designated by the WHO as 2019-nCoV, are similar to those of cold but may be accompanied by fever and fatigue, dry cough and dyspnea (shortness of breath).