The novel coronavirus has infected almost 10,000 people globally in just two months, prompting the World Health Organization to declare the outbreak a global emergency.

At the terminal that serves planes bound for China, people wear medical masks out of concern over the coronavirus at John F. Kennedy Airport (JFK) out of concern over the coronavirus on January 31, 2020 in New York City.
At the terminal that serves planes bound for China, people wear medical masks out of concern over the coronavirus at John F. Kennedy Airport (JFK) out of concern over the coronavirus on January 31, 2020 in New York City. (AFP)

China on Friday morning announced 9,692 confirmed cases of a worrying new virus with a death toll of 213, including 43 new fatalities.

The new virus is from the coronavirus family, which includes those that can cause the common cold and more serious illnesses, such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS and MERS.

Mi Feng, a spokesperson for the National Health Commission, reported 15,238 suspected cases across the nation but said that China had "the confidence and capability to effectively control and finally win the battle against the epidemic."

The vast majority of the cases have been in Hubei province and its provincial capital, Wuhan, where the first illnesses were detected in December.

No deaths have been reported outside China.

The virus has infected almost 10,000 people globally in just two months, a worrying sign of its spread that prompted the World Health Organization (WHO) to declare the outbreak a global emergency.

There are now more than 120 cases reported in at least 23 countries outside China.

This map by TRT World shows the global spread of the novel coronavirus, as of 1500 GMT on January 31, 2020. (TRTWorld)
This map by TRT World shows the global spread of the novel coronavirus, as of 1500 GMT on January 31, 2020. (TRTWorld) (TRTWorld)

Hundreds cured

China's National Health Commission reported 596 cases have been "cured and discharged from hospital". 

The WHO noted most people who got the illness had milder cases, though 20 percent experienced severe symptoms. Symptoms of the new coronavirus include fever and cough and in severe cases, shortness of breath and pneumonia.

Meanwhile, China's foreign ministry said it will send charter flights to bring home residents of Hubei from overseas. It gave few details, but said those from Hubei and especially Wuhan would be sent directly back as soon as possible in light of the "practical difficulties" they were encountering.

China has placed more than 50 million people in the region under virtual quarantine, while foreign countries, companies and airlines have cut back severely on travel to China and quarantined those who recently passed through Wuhan.

The virus is believed to have a two-week incubation period, during which those infected can pass on the illness even if they show no symptoms such as fever and cough.

Since China informed the WHO about the new virus in late December, 18 countries have reported cases as scientists race to understand how exactly the virus is spreading and how severe it is.

Experts say there is significant evidence the virus is spreading in China and the WHO noted with its emergency declaration on Thursday that it was especially concerned that some cases abroad also involved human-to-human transmission.

'Extraordinary event'

It defines an international emergency as an “extraordinary event” that constitutes a risk to other countries and requires a coordinated international response.

"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 told reporters in Geneva. 

"Our greatest concern is the potential for this virus to spread to countries with weaker health systems which are ill-prepared to deal with it. This declaration is not a vote of non-confidence in China," he said.

"On the contrary, WHO continues to have the confidence in China’s capacity to control the outbreak."

A declaration of a global emergency typically brings greater money and resources, but may also prompt nervous governments to restrict travel and trade to affected countries. The announcement also imposes more disease reporting requirements on countries.

Major US airlines cancel China flights

All three major US airlines announced the cancellation of flights to mainland China after the US State Department elevated a travel advisory over concerns about the coronavirus.

The trio of carriers, United Airlines Holdings Inc, Delta Air Lines Inc and American Airlines Group Inc, had already moved to reduce flights to China amid a sharp drop in demand as the virus spreads.

Their announcements on Friday came ahead of a call with US officials to discuss the flights.

United and Delta said they would continue to operate outbound flights until February 5 and February 3, respectively. United, the largest US carrier to China, said that would "help ensure our US based employees, as well as customers, have options to return home."

American, meanwhile, said it was halting all mainland flights as of Friday through March 27, but would continue to fly to Hong Kong.

Italy declares emergency

The Italian government declared a state of emergency on Friday to fast-track efforts to prevent the spread of a deadly coronavirus strain after two cases were confirmed in Rome.

Italy had said Thursday it was stopping all flights to and from China following the news that two Chinese tourists holidaying in Italy had tested positive for the virus.

First cases confirmed in the UK

Two patients from the same family in England have also tested positive for coronavirus, the first such cases in Britain, England's chief medical officer said.

British health officials had previously warned that the UK was highly likely to have cases of the new type of coronavirus.

"The patients are receiving specialist National Health Service (NHS) care, and we are using tried and tested infection control procedures to prevent further spread of the virus," England's chief medical officer, Chris Whitty, 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."

A plane carrying 83 British and 27 European Union nationals from Wuhan, the capital of Hubei, landed in Britain on Friday. The returning Britons will be quarantined for 14 days at an NHS facility in northwest England.

Two more employees of German car supplier, child get coronavirus

German car parts supplier Webasto said that two more of its employees have tested positive for the coronavirus, bringing the total to seven.

Earlier this week, the company began disclosing the illnesses of the other workers, in what was one of the first cases of person-to-person transmission outside China.

One of the newly-diagnosed employees is German and in Germany, while the other is Chinese and in Shanghai.

Both are being treated in hospital, Webasto said.

Germany also confirmed another case of coronavirus, identifying the victim as the child of a male employee at a company in Bavaria where a total of five workers had tested positive.

Russia confirms first cases

Two Chinese citizens have tested positive for the novel coronavirus in Russia's first cases, Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova said.

The two cases were registered in the Zabaikalsky and Tyumen regions of Siberia, Russian news agencies reported. She also said Russia would evacuate citizens from China because of the virus.

Golikova said all Russian airlines, with the exception of national airline Aeroflot, will stop flying to China from 2100 GMT on Friday. Four Chinese airlines will continue flying to Moscow, she added.

Russia has already closed its 4,300 kilometre-long (2,670 mile) land border with China to pedestrians and vehicles in an effort to protect its population.

US advises no travel to China

The US advised against all travel to China as the number of cases of a worrying new virus spiked more than tenfold in a week.

The State Department's travel advisory told Americans currently in China to consider departing using commercial means, and requested that all non-essential US government personnel defer travel in light of the virus.

On Friday, the US Embassy in Beijing said it was authorising the departure of family members and all non-emergency US government employees from Beijing and the consulates in the cities of Chengdu, Guangzhou, Shanghai and Shenyang.

Staff from the Wuhan consulate departed earlier this week.

The decision was made "out of an abundance of caution related to logistical disruptions stemming from restricted transportation and availability of appropriate health care related to the novel coronavirus", the embassy said.

The level-4 "do not travel" advisory is the highest grade of warning.

Mike Wester, a businessman in Beijing who has lived in China for 19 years, said he has no plans to leave.

“I feel safer self-quarantining myself here at home than I do risking travel,” said Wester.

He pointed to potential risks from crowds at airports and being required to remove a mask for passport and security checks.

Speaking by Skype from Utah, Kelly Flanagan, 36, a school counsellor in China since 2011, said she is planning to stay out of China as she watches the virus spread.

“This is probably going to be a while,” said Flanagan, who said her Type 1 diabetes added to her health concerns. From the US, she is working remotely with her students to help them pass English proficiency exams.

Japan and Germany also advised against non-essential travel, as did the UK with the exception of Hong Kong and Macau.

Tedros said WHO was not recommending limiting travel or trade to China, where transport links have shut down in places and businesses including Starbucks and McDonald's temporarily closing hundreds of shops.

"There is no reason for measures that unnecessarily interfere with international travel and trade," he said. He added that Chinese President Xi Jinping had committed to help stop the spread of the virus beyond its borders.

Beijing sharply criticised the United States warning, saying it was "not a gesture of goodwill."

"Certain US officials' words and actions are neither factual nor appropriate," China's foreign affairs ministry spokesman Hua Chunying said in a statement.

"Just as the WHO recommended against travel restrictions, the US rushed to go in the opposite way."

Cyprus treats first suspected case 

Cyprus said on Friday it was treating its first suspected case of coronavirus after a man arrived from China showing signs of the illness.

A statement by the Mediterranean island's Ministry of Health said: "A Chinese citizen residing in Cyprus who had visited China in the past few days presented symptoms similar to that of the coronavirus."

Swedish health authority confirms first coronavirus case

Sweden's Public Health Agency said on Friday that a woman had tested positive for coronavirus and was being kept isolated at a hospital in southern Sweden.

The woman had visited the Wuhan area in China and experienced cough symptoms after she arrived in Sweden. She contacted a hospital in southern Sweden where she is being treated. She is not gravely ill, the agency said.

'A very critical stage'

China’s UN Ambassador Zhang Jun said on Thursday evening in New York that "we are still at a very critical stage in fighting the coronavirus" but stressed that the epidemic is still mainly confined to China and urged the international community against any overreaction.

He said China appreciated "the friendly gesture made by the international community" in providing medical equipment and "what are needed urgently",  especially in Hubei province, are masks and other protective medical supplies including glasses.

Although scientists expect to see limited transmission of the virus between people with close contact, like within families, the instances of spread to people who may have had less exposure to the virus is worrying.

In Japan, a tour guide and bus driver became infected after escorting two tour groups from Wuhan. In Germany, five employees of German auto parts supplier Webasto became ill after a Chinese colleague visited. The woman had shown no symptoms of the virus until her flight back to China.

“That’s the kind of transmission chain that we don’t want to see,” said Marion Koopmans, an infectious diseases specialist at Erasmus University Medical Center in the Netherlands and a member of WHO’s emergency committee.

The new virus has now infected more people in China than were sickened there during the 2002-2003 outbreak of SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, a cousin of the new virus.

Both are from the coronavirus family, which also includes those that can cause the common cold.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies