Public health officials around the world worked to respond to the fast-growing outbreak of the new coronavirus from China on Tuesday.
The World Health Organization announced that it would send international health experts to China to help understand the outbreak and guide the response.
In Beijing, WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus met with China’s President Xi Jinping. “Stopping the spread of this virus both in China and globally is WHO’s highest priority,” said Dr. Tedros. “We appreciate the seriousness with which China is taking this outbreak,” he added, praising Chinese officials for sharing data and information about the virus.
The death toll from the illness has now topped 100, up from six a week ago. Total confirmed cases nearly doubled overnight — from 2,835 on Monday, to 4,515 on Tuesday. More than half of the confirmed cases are in Hubei, the central Chinese province where the outbreak originated in early December in Wuhan, a city of 11 million.
But new cases continue to emerge around the world. Germany was the latest in more than a dozen countries to confirm cases of the coronavirus within their borders — they’ve found four cases. German health officials say they have evidence of human-to-human transmission.
This week, the U.S., along with Japan, South Korea and the EU will start evacuating residents from Wuhan.
The U.S. State Department, citing “restricted transportation and overwhelmed hospitals in Wuhan” in a statement to NPR, chartered a flight to bring consulate employees and some residents back to the U.S. The flight, planned for Wednesday, is expected to carry around 240 people and refuel in Alaska before arriving in California.
The CDC also expanded airport screenings for the coronavirus from five to twenty airports, and intensified their travel guidance, advising Americans to avoid all nonessential travel to China.
Health officials in mainland China are urgently trying to halt the spread of the virus. The Chinese government added three days to the Lunar New Year holiday — now ending February 2 — delaying travel and the return to daily life.
“What they’re trying to do is to slow down person-to-person transmission,” says Dr. Louise-Marie Dembry, an epidemiologist at Yale who worked on infection prevention in China after SARS.
Some 50 million people remain quarantined within Wuhan and other nearby cities. But in a press conference Sunday, Wuhan mayor Zhou Xianwang said that some 5 million people left the city before the quarantine was implemented on January 23, reports the South China Morning Post.
In addition, neighboring countries are restricting travel from China, adding to China’s internal efforts to quarantine potentially exposed citizens. Mongolia tightened restrictions at its border crossings, and Malaysia has stopped issuing visas to visitors from China’s Hubei province.
Hong Kong’s government announced they’ve taken steps to reduce the flow of mainland visitors to Hong Kong by halting permits, canceling group tours and banning anyone who recently visited Hubei province. The efforts, while extensive, leave borders with China porous.
At a press conference, Hong Kong’s leader Carrie Lam said it was necessary to allow Hong Kong residents abroad to return home. “I don’t think it is very meaningful to talk about a complete closure of the boundary control points,” she said.
Hong Kong also announced Tuesday that it is closing museums, libraries and sports centers until further notice to prevent the coronavirus from spreading. The government is encouraging people to work from home. As of Tuesday, eight cases of coronavirus were confirmed in Hong Kong.