The death toll in China rises to 563, with more than 28,000 cases countrywide
BEIJING—The U.S. State Department offered Americans stranded in the Chinese city at the center of the coronavirus epidemic a last chance for evacuation: two planes, departing as soon as Thursday night, headed for U.S. soil, after China reported its highest single-day total of fatalities from the outbreak.
Seventy three people died on Wednesday, China said, pushing the total death toll in the country to 563. Chinese health authorities also confirmed 3,694 new cases, bringing the countrywide total to 28,018.
Most of the deaths and new confirmed cases were in Wuhan, the central Chinese city where the outbreak started, and the surrounding province of Hubei, an area of nearly 60 million people that has been quarantined.
Separately, the World Health Organization reported 28,285 confirmed cases globally Thursday, including more than 3,700 new cases. The daily increase is slightly lower than that of the previous day, but WHO officials warned that there is no sign the outbreak has peaked. A total of 565 people have died, WHO said.
WHO also announced that it will bring together an international group of scientists and public health experts on Feb. 11 and 12 to identify research priorities and coordinate funding. The aim is to fast-track the development of testing, vaccines and other treatments, said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention began shipping its diagnostic test kit to approved U.S. and international labs on Wednesday, hoping to speed up virus detection. Roughly 200 test kits will be distributed within the U.S., and a similar amount will be sent out internationally, the CDC said. Each kit can run about 700 to 800 patient samples.
The State Department said its last two evacuation planes from Wuhan are scheduled to leave Thursday night, according to an email sent to passengers on the flight. The department said in the email that it expected about 410 people, including Canadians, to be on the flights. It said the plan is to drop off Canadians in Vancouver before going to a U.S. destination, which is expected to be in California.
As deaths and infections from coronavirus-caused respiratory illnesses rise, governments including the U.S., Taiwan and Japan are taking increasingly aggressive steps to evacuate and quarantine citizens, while companies are scaling back operations in China.
Hundreds of Americans have already left Wuhan for home in three government-organized evacuation flights over the last 10 days. Washington last week raised its travel alert for China to the highest level of “Do Not Travel,” and advised Americans in China to consider departing through commercial means.
The State Department email, sent to Americans who contacted the U.S. Embassy in Beijing about a possible evacuation, said Thursday night’s planes would be the last chance for stranded Americans to leave the virus-hit city in the near future. “There are no plans for additional U.S. evacuation flights from Wuhan,” it said in boldface. Passengers are expected to pay about $1,000 for each ticket.
Singapore was also preparing a second evacuation flight soon, according to people with knowledge of the situation.
Saudi Arabia on Thursday suspended all travel to China for both its citizens and residents. Saudi Arabia’s General Directorate of Passports in a statement said citizens who violate the ban would be penalized, while residents wouldn’t be allowed back in the kingdom.
Taiwan on Thursday banned the visit of all international cruise ships, after saying earlier that only ships that had docked in China or the Chinese territories of Hong Kong and Macau would be barred. Taiwan, a self-ruled island that China considers part of its territory, said it had 11 confirmed coronavirus cases as of Thursday. The Taipei government said Chinese residents would be barred entry starting Thursday.
Japan’s health authorities on Thursday said they had found 10 new coronavirus cases on a cruise ship with 3,700 passengers and crew. Those 10 were taken to hospitals, while those remaining on the vessel face two more weeks of quarantine onboard, sometimes in windowless rooms.
In Hong Kong, passengers and crew on the cruise ship World Dream were stopped from leaving the ship on Wednesday, pending health checks.
The city said Thursday it had confirmed a new case of the virus, bringing its total cases to 22. A Hong Kong health official said the city had at least three patients infected with the virus without recent travel history, expressing concern about the increasing incidence of the disease being transmitted locally.
Virgin Australia airline said Thursday it was permanently halting service between Australia and Hong Kong. In a statement, the airline, one of Australia’s biggest, said it reached that decision after considering both the coronavirus outbreak and the already-low demand for flights because of the civil unrest in the specially governed Chinese city.
Airlines around the world, including American Airlines Group Inc., British Airways and Delta Air Lines Inc., have suspended service to mainland China, with many citing significant declines in demand.