China marked its most fatal day yet during the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak Thursday as the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the virus a global health emergency. Chinese authorities reported more than 40 deaths Thursday, all of them in Hubei, the province at the center of the outbreak of which Wuhan is the capital, bringing the total death toll to 213, with almost 10,000 cases confirmed worldwide. As of Friday, there were more than 9,700 coronavirus cases confirmed in China, authorities said, an increase of over 2,000 from the previous day. That surpasses the 2003 severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak that began in southern China, which infected 8,098 people worldwide, killing 774. More than 20 countries and territories outside of mainland China have confirmed cases of the virus — spanning Asia, Europe, North America, and the Middle East — as the United Kingdom reported its first two cases on Friday.”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 Ghebreyesus said on Thursday. “Our greatest concern is the potential for the virus to spread to countries with weaker health systems, and which are ill-prepared to deal with it.”The decision by the WHO has prompted governments to upgrade their own response to the virus, with the US State Department raising its travel advisory for China to it’s the highest level: Do not travel.The WHO defines a public health emergency of international concern as “an extraordinary event” that constitutes a “public health risk to other States through the international spread of disease,” and “to potentially require a coordinated international response.” Previous emergencies have included Ebola, Zika and H1N1. Ghebreyesus, who met this week with Chinese President Xi Jinping, said the WHO “continues to have confidence in China’s capacity to control the outbreak.””We would have seen many more cases outside China by now — and probably deaths — if it were not for the government’s efforts,” he added. Much of China goes back to work on Monday after the Lunar New Year holiday was extended in an attempt to rein in the virus. The fear now — as tens of millions of people travel across the country and cities return to usual business — is that new self-sustaining epidemic spots will rear up. Many schools and universities across the country will remain closed for much of next week.
As Wuhan and much of Hubei remains on lockdown in a bid to contain the virus, many countries have begun extracting their citizens from the city.A charter plane carrying more than 350 South Koreans landed at Gimpo International Airport near Seoul on Friday, following flights organized by the US and Japan to evacuate their citizens. Multiple other governments, including the UK, Australia, New Zealand and Canada are still arranging flights.
Meanwhile, more cases of the virus have been reported worldwide. Singapore confirmed three additional cases Thursday, bringing the total number of confirmed infections in the city to 13. Health officials said all 13 cases are in a stable condition and “most are improving.” They also advised citizens to “defer all travel to Hubei Province and all non-essential travel to mainland China.”The Singapore government said it will distribute four masks each to 1.3 million households in the city from Saturday. Other Asian territories, particularly Hong Kong, have struggled to maintain the supply of masks, with many stores running out following an initial rush by residents to stock up. More than 130 infections with the virus — but no deaths — have been reported outside mainland China. The UK has confirmed its first two cases of Wuhan coronavirus in the northwest of England, according to a statement Friday by Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer for England.”We can confirm that two patients in England, who are members of the same family, have tested positive for coronavirus. The patients are receiving specialist NHS (National Health Service) care, and we are using tried and tested infection control procedures to prevent further spread of the virus,” he said.”The NHS is extremely well-prepared and used to managing infections and we are already working rapidly to identify any contacts the patients had, to prevent further spread,” he added.”We have been preparing for UK cases of novel coronavirus and we have robust infection control measures in place to respond immediately. We are continuing to work closely with the World Health Organization and the international community as the outbreak in China develops to ensure we are ready for all eventualities.”Two of China’s neighbors have instituted emergency measures to try and stop the virus from spreading there. Russia said it was closing its border in the Far East, and limiting rail services from all of China from January 31. Meanwhile, North Korea declared a state of emergency and said it was instituting a “hygienic and anti-epidemic” response.
Much of Hubei has been under effective quarantine for weeks now, with almost every city facing travel restrictions in a province home to nearly 60 million people. Wuhan has been completely locked down, with residents cooped up in their homes and the streets abandoned. Foreigners being airlifted out of the city are also facing up to two weeks of mandatory or voluntary quarantine once they land in their home countries. However, this has sparked controversy in some countries, especially in Australia, where a plan to house evacuees in a former detention center for migrants on Christmas Island has generated no small amount of negative publicity. Public broadcaster ABC spoke to some Australians in Wuhan who said they would rather remain in the city than face two weeks on what has been described by some opposition lawmakers as a “leper camp,” even as Canberra defended its decision as the only place capable of quarantining hundreds of people.