The World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared the “unprecedented” outbreak of coronavirus an international public health emergency, as officials bid to prevent infections in countries with weak healthcare systems. Shortly afterwards, the UK’s four chief medical officers upgraded the risk level in Britain from low to moderate.
The WHO praised China‘s response to the outbreak which began in the city of Wuhan, and said that “we’re all in this together”. Director-general Tedros Adhanom said governments must work together “in a spirit of solidarity” to control the spread of the new pathogen.
Almost 8,000 cases have been recorded, including some 212 deaths. There are about 100 cases in countries outside China, and eight cases of human-to-human transmission in four countries. The announcement came as the UK prepared to bring its nationals back from Wuhan; they will be held in isolation for two weeks at a facility on Merseyside.
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South Korean officials hit with eggs by angry citizens over quarantine plans
A South Korean minister and officials were pelted with eggs and expletives as they tried to defuse anger over plans to quarantine hundreds of citizens set to be flown home from China.
About 700 South Koreans in Wuhan have been registered to fly back to the country, but protesters in Asan and Jincheon have attempted to block access to facilities earmarked for quarantine centres.
Demonstrators in Asan threw eggs and shouted expletives when Chin Young, the minister of interior and safety, tried to talk to them about the plans on Thursday amid fears about the virus spreading in South Korea.
“If it’s so safe, why don’t you bring them to your home?” one protester shouted at the minister.
Moon Jae-in, South Korea’s president, has called for calm and decried “fake news” which he said has stirred up excessive anxiety about the outbreak.
“The weapons that will protect us from the new coronavirus are not fear and aversion, but trust and cooperation,” he said during a speech in Seoul.
Authorities have been working with telecoms regulators to block and delete false information that could provoke “social confusion” about coronavirus, local media has reported.
Only one of four flights planned for the evacuation of citizens from Wuhan has been approved by China so far, causing a delay, according to South Korea's foreign minister.
India advises against travelling to China
India’s Ministry of Health has issued a travel advisory asking its citizens to “refrain from travel to China” over the ongoing outbreak of coronavirus.
The country announced its first case of the virus earlier today in the southern state of Kerala.
The advisory follows advice by US and UK travel authorities, which have warned against “all but essential travel” to the country.
Hong Kong faces mask shortage amid public panic over coronavirus
People in Hong Kong have been queuing overnight outside pharmacies to buy face masks to protect against coronavirus, local media has reported.
Although there has only been 10 confirmed cases of the virus so far in Hong Kong, the city’s close proximity to mainland China has sparked fears of a major outbreak.
Videos posted on social media have shown long queues for masks.
Just a few months ago, Hong Kong authorities banned face masks in response to months of anti-government protests over democratic reforms in the city and alleged police brutality.
Russia closes border with China over outbreak, local media reports
Mikhail Mishustin, Russia’s prime minister, has signed an order to close the country’s border with China to prevent the spread of coronavirus, according to Tass news agency.
“An order has been signed today, it has gone to work,” a statement from Mr Mishustin said.
“Today we will inform everyone accordingly about the relevant measures to close the border in the Far East region and other measures that the government has taken.”
The border between China and Russia is estimated as measuring more than 4,000 kilometres and is the world’s sixth-longest international border.
Russia’s foreign ministry has also announced it will temporarily stop issuing electronic visas to Chinese nationals from Thursday.
On Wednesday, Russia said it would limit its railway links with China from 31 January and run only direct trains between Moscow and Beijing.
Vietnam announces three new cases of coronavirus
Three new cases of coronavirus have been reported in Vietnam, according to the official health ministry newspaper.
Two people are being treated for the virus in the capital of Hanoi, the Suc Khoe & Doi Song newspaper said, while another is receiving treatment in the northern province of Thanh Hoa.
All three patients recently returned from Wuhan, China.
Last week, the health ministry said two Chinese citizens in Vietnam had tested positive for coronavirus – one patient has since recovered.
Additional reporting by Reuters
There has been a lot of talk in recent weeks about eating habits in China in connection with the spread of coronavirus.
Now, CGTN (China Global Television Network) has released an article on wild animals which are sometimes eaten in Asia that can carry the virus.
“A seafood market in Wuhan that also sells game meat has been fingered as the source of the outbreak, although reports have emerged that it may not be the only one,” the state-owned global news channel said.
The article notes that bats could spread the virus, partly because the animal played an important role in the SARS outbreak in 2002-2003.
However, CGTN has also noted rats, snakes, civets and hedgehogs as wild animals to be wary of that may appear on menus.
Spanish national airline halts flights between Madrid and Shanghai
Iberia, Spain's national airline, has said it is halting its three weekly round-trip flights between Madrid and Shanghai over the coronavirus outbreak.
The airline added that ticketed passengers could change their flight dates or be reimbursed for the cancellations.
Iberia has also said it will seek alternative arrangements for passengers who are looking to complete booked return journeys within the suspension period.
Spanish authorities are working on plans to evacuate about 20 citizens from Wuhan.
The Spanish nationals will then be quarantined in an unspecific hospital for two weeks.
There are currently no confirmed cases of the virus in the country.
Australia defends plans for island quarantine camp
Australia’s government has defended its plan to send citizens evacuated from China to a remote island which has been used as a detention centre for asylum seekers.
Christmas Island, in the Indian Ocean, has been used by the government in a widely condemned policy of banishing asylum seekers who attempt to arrive by boat to offshore camps.
Peter Dutton, Australia’s home affairs minister, has said the plan strikes the right balance between supporting Australians who are stuck in China and protecting the wider population from coronavirus.
“The reality is people need to be accommodated somewhere for up to 14 days,” Mr Dutton told reporters in Canberra.
“I can't clear out a hospital in Sydney or Melbourne or Brisbane. I don't have a facility otherwise that we can quickly accommodate for what might be many hundreds of people and Christmas Island is purpose-built for exactly this scenario.”
The Australian Medical Association, the nation's leading medical advocate, has said Australians would be better quarantined on the country’s mainland.
“We feel that the repatriation to Christmas Island - to a place previously the focus of populations under enormous mental and physical trauma and anguish - is not a really appropriate solution,” Tony Bartone, the association’s president, told Nine Network.
The United Nations has condemned Australia's indefinite banishing of asylum seekers to island camps as inhumane and argued it stokes violence and mental illness.
Source: Getty Images
Cambodia PM urges calm over virus and criticises reporters wearing face masks
Earlier today, Cambodia’s leader urged citizens to remain calm about coronavirus and threatened to kick out reporters or officials seen wearing face masks.
Hun Sen, the prime minister, said people should not be scared because the real illness they faced was fear, based on inaccurate information on social media.
“The prime minister does not wear a mask, so why should you be wearing a mask here,” he told journalists at a live televised address.
BA extends cancellation of all flights to and from mainland China
British Airways has extended its cancellation of flights to and from mainland China up to and including 29 February over the coronavirus outbreak.
A statement from the airline said:
“We are contacting customers on cancelled flights so we can discuss their travel options, including re-booking onto other carriers where possible, full refunds or booking with BA for a later date of travel.
“Customers can also find the latest information and options on BA.com.
“Safety is at the heart of everything we do and we will keep the situation under review."
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