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China Virus Cases Top Total for SARS   01/29 06:17

   Countries began evacuating their citizens Wednesday from the Chinese city 
hardest-hit by a new virus that has now infected more people in China than were 
sickened in the country by SARS. 

   BEIJING (AP) -- Countries began evacuating their citizens Wednesday from the 
Chinese city hardest-hit by a new virus that has now infected more people in 
China than were sickened in the country by SARS. 

   The number of confirmed cases jumped to 5,974, surpassing the 5,327 in 
mainland China during the SARS outbreak in 2002-2003. 

   The death toll rose to 132, which is still lower than the 348 people who 
were killed in China by SARS. Scientists say there are still many critical 
questions to be answered about the new virus, including just how transmissible 
and severe it is. 

   A Japanese flight that brought back evacuees from the city of Wuhan included 
four passengers with coughs and fevers. Two were diagnosed with pneumonia.

   The three men and one woman were taken to a Tokyo hospital in separate 
ambulances for treatment and further medical checks. Another woman developed 
nausea at the airport and was also hospitalized.

   It wasn't immediately known whether they were infected with the new type of 
coronavirus, which first appeared in Wuhan in December. Its symptoms, including 
cough and fever and in severe cases pneumonia, are similar to many other 
illnesses.

   China's latest figures added 26 deaths, all but one in Hubei province and 
its capital, Wuhan. The number of cases rose 1,459 from the previous day, a 
smaller increase than the 1,771 new cases reported on Monday. More than 50 
infections have been confirmed abroad.

   The United Arab Emirates, home to long-haul carriers Emirates and Etihad, 
reported its first cases on Wednesday in members of a family who had come from 
Wuhan, the state-run news agency reported. It wasn't immediately clear how many 
family members were involved. 

   British Airways announced it was immediately suspending all flights to and 
from mainland China after the U.K. government warned against unnecessary travel 
to the country. BA said in a statement Wednesday that "we apologize to 
customers for the inconvenience, but the safety of our customers and crew is 
always our priority." The airline operates daily flights from London's Heathrow 
Airport to Shanghai and Beijing.

   The outbreak has also affected international sporting events, with the 
International Hockey Federation postponing Pro League games in China, and 
qualifiers for the Tokyo Olympics scheduled in February in soccer, basketball 
and boxing being moved outside of the country. With just 177 days before the 
summer games, Tokyo organizers are on edge over the outbreak's possible 
knock-on effects. 

   In Australia, health officials said the Chinese women's national soccer team 
was quarantined in the city of Brisbane over concerns it had passed through 
Wuhan a week ago.

   The team will be kept in isolation in a hotel until Wednesday next week. 
None of the group of 32 players and staff has shown symptoms. 

   Chartered planes carrying evacuees home to Japan and the United States left 
Wuhan early Wednesday as other countries planned similar evacuations from areas 
China has shut down to try to contain the virus. The lockdown of 17 cities has 
trapped more than 50 million people in the most far-reaching disease control 
measures ever imposed. 

   A plane carrying Americans who had been in Wuhan left for Anchorage, Alaska, 
where they will be re-screened for the virus. U.S. hospitals are prepared to 
treat or quarantine people who may be infected. After departing Alaska, the 
plane is to fly to Ontario, California. 

   At the Tokyo airport, Takeo Aoyama, an employee at Nippon Steel Corp.'s 
subsidiary in Wuhan, told reporters he was relieved to be able to return home.

   "We were feeling increasingly uneasy as the situation developed so rapidly 
and we were still in the city," Aoyama said, his voice muffled by a white 
surgical mask. 

   The Tokyo Metropolitan Government confirmed the condition of the four ill 
passengers after the flight of 206 Japanese evacuees arrived. They were taken 
in separate ambulances to a Tokyo hospital for treatment and further health 
checks.

   All of the passengers had their temperatures checked before boarding and on 
the plane, and plans had been made for all of the evacuees to be treated and 
quarantined depending on their test results.

   Among those remaining in Wuhan was Sara Platto, an Italian animal behavior 
researcher and veterinarian, and her son, Matteo. 

   "My son turned 12 on January 23, the first day of the lockdown in Wuhan. So 
he couldn't invite his friends over. We had a remote birthday celebration, with 
people 'visiting' him over Wechat," Platto said, referring to China's 
Twitter-like messaging app. "We called it the epidemic birthday." 

   Platto said there were 25 Italians stuck in Wuhan, some students, some very 
young, who stay in touch online for material and emotional support. She has 
used her scientific background to offer advice and debunk sensational false 
news, reminding friends to wash their hands and faces often. 

   As much as panic, people spending most of their times indoors have to deal 
with boredom. 

   Matteo usually has a very busy agenda between his school, sports, and 
volunteer work, but now "it's like suddenly everything has slowed down," Platto 
said. As with other international schools, classes are moving online until the 
all-clear is sounded. 

   "We have most of what we need for now. I think it's a serious situation, but 
we are not in zombie land," she said. 

   Several countries have confirmed cases of the virus, with most of them being 
Chinese visitors, people who visited Wuhan or family members in close contact 
to the sick. Japan's six confirmed cases include a tour bus driver who drove 
visiting groups from Wuhan. Germany says four workers at an auto parts company 
possibly were infected when a colleague from Shanghai visited. 

   Australia and New Zealand were the latest countries planning evacuations. 
Both countries also stepped up their travel advice to China, as did Britain. 

   Experts have feared travel during the Lunar New Year holiday would enable 
the further spread of the virus, and China expanded the holiday to keep people 
home, closing schools and offices to try to contain it.

   Hong Kong was preparing to cut rail service from China at midnight. 

   Wuhan is building two hospitals in a matter of days to add 2,500 beds for 
treatment of patients with the virus.

   The new virus is from the coronavirus family, which includes those that can 
cause the common cold as well as more serious illnesses such as SARS and MERS.

   The source of the virus and the full extent of its spread are still unknown. 
However, the World Health Organization said most cases reported to date "have 
been milder, with around 20% of those infected experiencing severe illness." 


(KR)

 
 
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