Coronavirus outbreak outstrips SARS epidemic; deaths mount

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The number of confirmed cases of the Wuhan coronavirus has overtaken the 2003 SARS outbreak inside of mainland China with more than 6,000 confirmed cases of the virus in mainland China, including 132 deaths, writes MedicalBrief. The CEO of Novartis has warned in a CNBC report that it will take at least a year to find a new vaccine.

The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus has overtaken the 2003 SARS outbreak inside of mainland China. CNN reports that, according to the Chinese National Health Commission (NHC), as of Wednesday, there were 5,974 confirmed cases of the virus in mainland China, including 132 deaths.

The number of cases grew by almost 1,500 from Tuesday, a more than 30% increase. The figures do not include Hong Kong and Macau, both of which have reported a small number of cases. There have been more than 80 cases of the virus reported outside mainland China, bringing the worldwide total to over 6,000.

During the 2003 SARS outbreak there were 5,327 confirmed cases of the disease in mainland China, with 349 deaths. Experts have previously estimated the Wuhan virus figures could still be vastly under-reported, making the novel coronavirus far more contagious, but also less deadly, than SARS. 

Wuhan’s Communist Party chief Ma Guoqiang said that testing had been streamlined in recent days, leading to a spike in diagnoses. “This does not mean the speed of the disease spreading has increased drastically,” he added.

Authorities in China also reported a suspected case of the Wuhan virus in Tibet, previously the only region to have avoided the virus. If confirmed, the spread to Tibet despite the implementation of strict checks on travellers and closing of tourist sites will renew concerns about how easily the virus is transmitted, particularly when people are asymptomatic.

The semi-autonomous city of Hong Kong, which has reported eight cases of the virus, has announced it was closing many of its border crossings with mainland China, slashing the number of tourist visas it issues to mainland Chinese visitors, and halving the number of inbound flights from the mainland. Hong Kong has also instructed government employees to work from home for the rest of the week, and requested private companies do the same. The streets and public transport were noticeably quiet on Wednesday morning, the first day back from the Lunar New Year holiday. 

Chinese President Xi Jinping hasvowed to do everything to tackle the “demon” epidemic. 

Speaking during a meeting with World Health Organisation (WHO) director general Tedros Adhanom in Beijing, Xi said the Chinese people “are engaging in a serious battle against the outbreak of the new coronavirus.” 

“People’s lives and health are always the first priority for the Chinese government, and the prevention and control of the epidemic is the most important task at present, so I have been directing and deploying the works myself,” Xi added. “I believe as long as we can strengthen our confidence, stand together, scientifically prevent and control the epidemic and adopt precise measures, we will definitely defeat this epidemic.”

An online tool that provides live updates on the spread of the new coronavirus has been developed by scientists, reports Newsweek. The virus, which causes pneumonia-like symptoms, has so far been detected in at least 11 countries, with almost 4,500 cases confirmed.

Experts at Johns Hopkins University‘s Centre for Systems Science and Engineering created the dashboard to track reported cases of the infection. The information is also available as a Google spreadsheet. 

The webpage includes the total number of deaths, confirmed cases, and the number of people who have recovered from the virus which has been linked to a wholesale seafood market in Wuhan, where live animals were sold. The information is plotted on a map, as well as in tables on either side.

The dashboard works by pulling in and visualising data from official bodies including the WHO, the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Europe, and China, as well as China’s NHC.

According to Lauren Gardner, an associate professor at Johns Hopkins University:  “The dashboard is intended to provide the public with an understanding of the outbreak situation as it unfolds, with transparent data sources.”

Australia plans to quarantine its evacuees on Christmas Island 2,000km (1,200 miles) from the mainland. And, reports BBC News, Japan, the US and the EU are also repatriating their citizens.

British Airways has suspended all flights to and from mainland China, as the UK’s Foreign Office warned against “all but essential travel” there. Several other airlines have taken similar measures. United Airlines and Cathay Pacific are restricting flights, while Lion Air – one of the region’s biggest airlines – is stopping flights to China from. Cathay Pacific has also suspended inflight trolley services, changed some aspects of its meal offer, and stopped giving out hot towels, pillows, blankets and magazines in an effort to prevent the virus spreading.

The report says in another development, the furniture retailer Ikea said it was temporarily shutting half its 30 stores in China “in response to the Chinese government’s call for efficient control of the spread of the disease”.

Meanwhile, the report says, an expert from the NHC said it could take 10 more days for the outbreak to peak.

Full CNN report

Full Newsweek report

Dashboard

Full BBC News report

Full CNBC report

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