WHO says prepare for local coronavirus outbreak; China slams US ban order

Coronavirus

China's death toll from a new virus rose to 259 on Saturday and a World Health Organisation official said other governments need to prepare fordomestic outbreak control if the disease spreads in their countries.

Beijing criticised Washington's order barring entry to most foreigners who visited China in the past two weeks.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced similar measures on Saturday, following Japan and Singapore.

Meanwhile, South Korea and India flew hundreds of their citizens out of Wuhan, the city at the center of an area where some 50 million people are prevented from leaving in a sweeping anti-virus effort. The evacuees went into a two-week quarantine.

Indonesia also sent a plane.

The number of confirmed cases in China rose to 11,791, surpassing the number in the 2002-03 outbreak of SARS, or Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome. The virus's rapid spread in two months prompted the World Health Organization on Thursday to declare it a global emergency.

That declaration flipped the switch from a cautious attitude earlier to recommending governments prepare for the possibility the virus might spread, said the

WHO representative in Beijing, Gauden Galea. Most cases reported so far have been people who visited China or their family members.

The agency acted out of concern for poorer countries that might not be equipped to respond, said Galea. Such a declaration calls for a coordinated international response and can bring more money and resources.

WHO said it was especially concerned that some cases abroad involved human-to-human transmission.

Countries need to get ready for possible importation in order to identify cases as early as possible and in order to be ready for a domestic outbreak control, if that happens, Galea told The Associated Press.

On Friday, the United States declared a public health emergency and President Donald Trump signed an order barring entry to foreign nationals, other than immediate family of American citizens and permanent residents, who visited China within the last 14 days, which scientists say is the virus's longest incubation period.

China criticized the US controls, which it said contradicted the WHO's appeal to avoid travel bans, and unfriendly comments that Beijing was failing to cooperate.

Just as the WHO recommended against travel restrictions, the U.S. rushed to go in the opposite way. Certainly not a gesture of goodwill, said foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying.

WHO Secretary-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in Geneva that despite the emergency declaration, there is no reason for measures that unnecessarily interfere with international travel and trade.

Meanwhile, the ruling Communist Party postponed the end of the Lunar New Year holiday in Hubei province, where Wuhan is located, for an unspecified appropriate extent and appealed to the public there to stay home.

Another locked-down city in Hubei, Huanggang, on Saturday banned almost all of its residents from leaving their homes in the most stringent controls imposed yet. The government said only one person from each household would be allowed out to shop for food once every two days.

Others are not allowed to go out except for medical treatment, to do epidemic prevention and control work or to work in supermarkets and pharmacies, it said in an announcement.

China's increasingly drastic anti-disease controls started with the Jan. 23 suspension of plane, bus and train links to Wuhan, an industrial center of 11 million people. The lockdown has spread to surrounding cities.

The holiday, China's busiest annual travel season, ends Sunday in the rest of the country following a three-day extension to postpone the return to factories and offices by hundreds of millions of workers.

The official Xinhua News Agency said people in Hubei who work outside the province also were given an extended holiday.

The party decision highlighted the importance of prevention and control of the epidemic among travelers, Xinhua said.

Americans returning from China will be allowed into the country, but will face screening and are required to undertake 14 days of self-screening. Those returning from Hubei province will be subject to a 14-day quarantine.

Beginning Sunday, the United States will direct flights from China to seven major airports where passengers can be screened.

Also Friday, Delta Air Lines and American Airlines suspended all flights between the United States and China. Other carriers including British Airways, Finnair and Hong Kong's Cathay Pacific also have cancelled or cut back service to mainland China. Vietnam suspended all flights to China.

The US order followed a travel advisory for Americans to consider leaving China. Japan and Germany also advised against non-essential travel to China and Britain did as well, except for Hong Kong and Macao.

A plane carrying Indians from Wuhan landed Saturday in New Delhi. The government said they would be quarantined in a nearby city, Manesar. Sri Lanka also pulled out 33 more of its citizens and promised to bring out the remaining 204 students.

A special flight brought 312 Bangladeshis back from Wuhan, including eight who were hospitalised with high temperatures. The government says about 5,000 Bangladeshis study in China.

A Turkish military transport carrying 42 people left Wuhan for Ankara on Saturday.

They reportedly showed no signs of infection.

The Kremlin said starting Saturday, Russian air force planes will be used to evacuate Russians from areas of China most seriously affected by the virus.

Germany's defense minister said a plane taking 102 citizens back to Germany was refused permission to land and refuel in Moscow due to what the Russians said was lack of capacity and had to divert to Helsinki.



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