Chinese authorities on Monday raised the death toll from a coronavirus outbreak to 81, ahead of a visit by the director-general of the World Health Organization who will help map out a plan to stem the virus’ spread.
WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said he planned to meet with health officials in Beijing and discuss what’s happening in Wuhan, where the outbreak began.
“We are working 24/7 to support China and its people during this difficult time and remain in close contact with affected countries, with our regional and country offices deeply involved,” Ghebreyesus tweeted Sunday. “[WHO] is updating all countries on the situation and providing specific guidance on what to do to respond.”
Chinese officials said there are at least 2,835 coronavirus cases in China as of Monday, and the outbreak has so far killed 81 people in mainland China. Fifty-five patients are in the hospital, they added.
Outside of China, eight cases have been confirmed in Thailand, five each in the United States and Australia and four each in Japan, South Korea, Singapore and Malaysia. Two cases have been documented in Vietnam, where officials have quarantined a dozen people who may also have the virus.
Officials said Monday there are about 4,100 Wuhan residents still traveling overseas who are expected to return in the coming days.
Given past virus outbreaks, Beijing said it hoped to show it’s taking proper measures to contain the coronavirus — including the construction of a clinic to handle Chinese cases.
“We have built an all-round and multilevel prevention and control system focusing on Wuhan and Hubei,” Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told Japan’s Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi on Sunday. “All are open and transparent, and we will speed up [the implementation of prevention] progress in a scientific and orderly manner.”
The US State Department raised its travel advisory for China to Level 3: Reconsider Travel due to novel coronavirus.
The alert reads:
Reconsider travel to China due to novel coronavirus first identified in Wuhan, China. Some areas have increased risk.
A novel (new) coronavirus is causing an outbreak of respiratory illness that began in the city of Wuhan, Hubei Province, China. This outbreak began in early December 2019 and continues to grow. Chinese health officials have reported thousands of cases throughout China.
Although the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has not yet issued a level 3 warning for all of China, the Chinese authorities are imposing quarantines and restricting travel throughout the country.
Last week, the department warned travelers against traveling to the Hubei Province – where Wuhan is located – and raised the alert for that specific region to Level 4: Do Not Travel.
The State Department is arranging a flight for diplomatic staff and US citizens to depart Wuhan and return to California.
CDC official: No clear evidence Wuhan coronavirus can spread before people show symptoms
There is not yet “any clear evidence” that people can transmit the Wuhan coronavirus before they begin exhibiting symptoms, Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, told reporters on Monday.
But, she said, it’s a possibility health officials are investigating.
Messonnier’s comment comes after China’s health minister Ma Xiaowei said people can spread the virus before they become symptomatic, but offered no explanation as to why he believes that to be the case.
“At this time, it’s unclear how easily or sustainably this virus is spreading between people,” the CDC says.
The CDC has based early theories about the novel virus on what we know about SARS and MERS, which are part of the same family of viruses. Based on that knowledge, the CDC also believes that symptoms of the Wuhan coronavirus may take anywhere from two days to two weeks after exposure to show symptoms. It is also thought to transmit chiefly through droplets from coughs or sneezes, consistent with comments made Monday by Chinese officials.
On the call with reporters, Messonnier also seemed to allay concerns that the virus could be transmitted via packages sent from China. Coronaviruses like SARS and MERS tend to have poor survivability, and there’s “very low, if any risk” that a product shipped at ambient temperatures over a period of days or weeks could spread such a virus.
“We don’t know for sure if this virus will behave exactly the same way,” Messonnier said, but there’s no evidence to support transmission of the virus via imported goods.
Messonnier repeated her message that the immediate risk to the US public is low at this point.