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WHO raises global health alert over coronavirus as HK records 12th case

31 January 2020

By The SUN

* Schools to reopen Mar 2
* Banks to close 20-30% of branches
* Health service union warns of strike unless the government closes all border crossings with China

A patient is checked at Zhongnan Hospital in Wuhan (AP photo)

The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared a global public health emergency over the spread of the Wuhan coronavirus, as China reported its biggest daily death toll from the contagion on Thursday, Jan. 30

All save one of the 43 new deaths happened in Hubei province, the epicenter of the outbreak. The total death toll nationwide is now 213, with the confirmed cases shooting up to more than 9,800, far more than that recorded for the Sars epidemic 17 years ago.

In Hong Kong, two more confirmed cases were reported, bringing the total tally to 12.

In declaring PHEIC over the Wuhan coronavirus, the WHO cited as reason the potential of the virus to spread to countries not prepared to deal with the contagion.
WHO's Tedros announcing the global emergency alert for the Wuhan coronavirus
“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,” WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.

Tedros said the declaration was not a vote of no-confidence in China’s ability to control the outbreak. In fact, he said China deserved only respect for its handling of the contagion.

Thus, it was not necessary to “punish” China by imposing severe restrictions on travel to and from the country.

“Some countries have taken questionable measures concerning travellers,” said Didier Houssin, chair of the WHO’s emergency committee. Those measures, he said, “should not constitute an example to follow”.

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WHO outlined a number of recommendations to fight off the spread of the coronavirus, including accelerating the development of a vaccine, reviewing preparedness plans, combating the spread of misinformation, and sharing data with the United Nations body.

Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying responded to the WHO declaration by saying  Beijing would continue to work with the agency and other countries “to safeguard global and regional public health security.”

“We completely have the confidence and capability to win this fight against the epidemic,” she said.

Amid the outbreak, numerous governments have advised against all non-essential travel to China, including the United States and Britain, with the latest being Hong Kong.
CE Lam calls on HK people to avoid traveling to China (SCMP photo)
Chief Executive Carrie Lam said at a news conference on Jan 31 that Hong Kong residents should avoid traveling to China, as the partial closure of the crossings into the mainland took effect. About 37,000 local residents crossed the border to the mainland yesterday, while 19,500 people came in from China.

Singapore, which has 13 recorded cases, took a step further and sealed off its border with China.

The US and Japan has also taken steps to pull out their citizens from Wuhan, which has been locked down for five days after being identified as ground zero of the epidemic.

China has done the reverse, flying out 217 stranded citizens in Thailand and Malaysia aboard two aircraft today.

Chinese aviation officials said flights have also been arranged to airlift Wuhan residents who are stuck in Singapore, Osaka in Japan, Krabi in Thailand, Mandalay in Myanmar, and other places.

Despite the big number of people affected so far, and the extent of the contagion, the Wuhan coronavirus has proved less deadly than Sars, which killed about 600 people in 2002-2003, and Mers (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome), which had a fatality rate of 33%.

The three are among seven coronaviruses known to affect humans.

What experts are most concerned about now is containing the human-to-human transmission of the coronavirus.

Eight such infections have been reported outside of China, including the second known case in the US, a Chicago man who contracted the illness from his wife. In Germany, a man was infected by a colleague who had visited China but was asymptomatic.

In Hong Kong, the latest two cases involved a 37-year-old woman from Yau Ma Tei and a 75-year-old man from Tsing Yi.

The woman appeared to have contracted the virus from her parents, who were the 9th and 10th cases. She developed a cough on Jan 28 and was admitted to Queen Elizabeth Hospital on Jan 30, where she tested positive for the virus. She is in stable condition.

The patient stayed at W Hong Kong with her parents from Jan 22-28 and then visited The Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong and Four Seasons Hotel Hong Kong with them. She accompanied her parents to Queen Mary Hospital then returned home. She fell ill two days later.

The second case, an elderly man residing in Hong Mei House, Cheung Hong Estate, developed cough and shortness of breath on Jan 22. He sought treatment at Princess Margaret Hospital on Jan 24 and tested positive for the coronavirus after six days.

The patient was in Shunde in Guangdong Province from Dec 30 last year to Jan 7 and sought treatment at a clinic there. He took day trips to Macau from Jan 10 to 14.

His wife, daughter and son are asymptomatic, but will be quarantined at Lady MacLehose Holiday Village.

In other developments in Hong Kong:

·                       All primary and secondary schools, as well as Baptist, Hong Kong and Polytechnic Universities will reopen on Mar 2 instead of Feb 17
·                        13,000 members of a health workers’ union are set to vote on a move to hold a strike at public hospitals starting Monday if CE Lam does not heed their call to completely seal off Hong Kong’s borders with China
·                       Banks to close a third of their branches in the wake of the outbreak
·                       CE Lam orders any new arrival who had been to Hubei to be placed under quarantine;
·                        CE Lam says a HK Labour advisory urging migrant workers to stay at home on their rest day is meant to protect them
·                       Courts remain closed until Monday, Feb 3
·                       Civil servants, except frontline and emergency staff, are working from home until next week, when Chinese experts say the rate of contagion would have eased.
·                       But a researcher at City University disagrees; saying the number of coronavirus cases in Hong Kong could rise to more than 200 within the next two weeks, as more local residents return from the mainland.
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