A World Health Organisation (WHO) official has warned that governments need to prepare for “domestic outbreak control” as China’s death toll from a new virus rose to 259.
- The enforced lockdown across Hubei province has been extended
- At least 24 countries have now confirmed cases of the coronavirus
- China says the United States’ travel ban is “not a gesture of goodwill”
Beijing criticised Washington’s order barring entry to most foreigners who visited China in the past two weeks, a similar measure to that announced by Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Saturday.
Mr Morrison said Australia’s chief medical officers had recommended denying entry to Australia for people who have left or transited through mainland China from February 1.
Exceptions would be made for Australian citizens, permanent residents and their immediate families, as well as air crews who have been using appropriate personal protective equipment.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) has advised Australians not to travel to China due to the “escalating threat” of the virus, while asking those who have returned from the country to self-isolate for 14 days.
On Saturday, South Australia confirmed its first two cases of coronavirus and Victoria its fourth, bringing the national total to 12.
Foreign Minister Marise Payne said the process of evacuating Australians from Wuhan is being planned and would be finalised “soon”.
The Federal Government now says evacuees will not be charged for being flown back from China, despite Australians caught in the epicentre of the outbreak originally being told it would cost them $1,000 if they agreed to an “assisted departure”.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg told Insiders on Sunday that charge will no longer apply.
He said the Government had been given incorrect advice from the Department of Foreign Affairs.
Meanwhile, South Korea and India flew hundreds of their citizens out of Wuhan, the city at the centre of an area where some 50 million people are prevented from leaving in a sweeping anti-virus effort.
The evacuees went into a two-week quarantine.
Indonesia also sent a plane, sparking rowdy protests from residents living near a military base that will house evacuees.
The number of confirmed cases in China rose to 11,791, surpassing the number in the 2002-03 outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).
Both the new virus and SARS are from the coronavirus family, which also includes those that cause the common cold.
The virus’s rapid spread in two months prompted WHO on Thursday to declare it a global emergency.
Be ready for ‘domestic outbreak control’: WHO
That declaration “flipped the switch” from a cautious attitude earlier to recommending governments prepare for the possibility the virus might spread, said the WHO representative in Beijing, Gauden Galea.
Most cases reported so far have been people who visited China or their family members.
WHO said it was especially concerned that some cases abroad involved human-to-human transmission.
“Countries need to get ready for possible importation in order to identify cases as early as possible and in order to be ready for a domestic outbreak control, if that happens,” Mr Galea said.
US travel ban criticised by China
The United States declared a public health emergency on Friday and President Donald Trump signed an order barring entry to foreign nationals, other than immediate family of American citizens and permanent residents, who visited China within the last 14 days, which scientists say is the virus’s longest incubation period.
Americans returning from China will be allowed into the country, but will face screening and are required to undertake 14 days of self-screening. Those returning from Hubei province will be subject to a 14-day quarantine.
Beginning on Sunday, the United States will direct flights from China to seven major airports where passengers can be screened.
Delta Air Lines and American Airlines suspended all flights between the United States and China. Other carriers including British Airways, Finnair and Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific also have cancelled or cut back service to mainland China. Vietnam suspended all flights to China.
The US order followed a travel advisory for Americans to consider leaving China.
Japan and Germany also advised against non-essential travel to China and Britain did as well, except for Hong Kong and Macao.
China criticised the US controls, which it said contradicted the WHO’s appeal to avoid travel bans, and “unfriendly comments” that Beijing was failing to cooperate.
“Just as the WHO recommended against travel restrictions, the US rushed to go in the opposite way. Certainly not a gesture of goodwill,” said foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying.
WHO Secretary-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in Geneva that despite the emergency declaration, there is “no reason for measures that unnecessarily interfere with international travel and trade.”
Lunar New Year extended
Meanwhile, the ruling Communist Party postponed the end of the Lunar New Year holiday in Hubei province, where Wuhan is located, for an unspecified “appropriate extent” and appealed to the public there to stay home.
Another locked-down city in Hubei, Huanggang, on Saturday banned almost all of its residents from leaving their homes in the most stringent controls imposed yet.
The government said only one person from each household would be allowed out to shop for food once every two days.
“Others are not allowed to go out except for medical treatment, to do epidemic prevention and control work or to work in supermarkets and pharmacies,” it said in an announcement.
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