Wed, 19 Feb 2020

BEIJING, China - The death toll and infected rate from the Wuhan coronavirus in China has increased dramatically, while the first cases have been reported in countries as widespread as France and Australia, leading health authorities around the globe scrambling to prevent a pandemic.

China on Saturday said that 41 people have died and at least 1,287 cases have been reported in 29 provinces across the country, with 237 patients listed in serious condition.

The authorities also reported that a doctor at a hospital in the epicenter of the outbreak, Hubei Province, has died from the coronavirus.

Hubei has been the site of 39 of the Chinese deaths, with one in Hebei and one in Heilongjiang provinces.

No deaths have been reported outside of China, but France said three people have fallen ill with the virus in the first known detections in Europe.

French officials said two patients were hospitalized in Paris and the other in the southwestern city of Bordeaux.

The United States has reported two cases, one in the northwestern city of Seattle and a second involving a Chicago woman in her 60s. Both had recently returned from trips to China.

Early on January 25, Australia's state of Victoria detected its first case, health officials said.

The victim was described as a Chinese national in his 50s. He arrived from China on January 19 on a flight from Guangzhou, Victoria Health Minister Jenny Mikakos said.

'It is important to stress that there is no cause for alarm to the community,' Mikakos said. 'The patient is isolated and is undergoing treatment and we do not have any further suspected cases at this stage.

Cases of the virus have also been reported in Japan, the Philippines, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam, Saudi Arabia, and Singapore, as well as in the Chinese territories of Hong Kong and Macau.

Known as 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV), the virus is said to be a new strain not previously identified in humans. It has caused alarm because of its similarity to SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), which killed hundreds across mainland China and Hong Kong in 2002-03.

Chinese authorities have expanded a gigantic quarantine effort aimed at containing the spread of a deadly virus to at least 13 cities with a total population of 41.

Most transport in Wuhan, the 11-million population capital of the Hubei Province where the virus first emerged in late December, was suspended and authorities have reportedly made wearing a mask mandatory in the city while advising people to avoid crowds and public gatherings.

Officials in Wuhan said authorities are rushing to build a prefabricated hospital that can handle up to 1,000 people.

Besides Wuhan, 12 other cities nearby have been locked down, with most of them going public on January 24 with various measures ranging from closing public venues and restricting large gatherings to halting public transportation and asking citizens not to leave their cities.

With reporting by Reuters, AFP, and AP

Copyright (c) 2018. RFE/RL, Inc. Republished with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036

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