Coronavirus: First death in Hong Kong as number killed by disease hits 425

4 February 2020, 06:50 | Updated: 4 February 2020, 08:08

Medical workers help the first batch of patients infected with the novel coronavirus move into their isolation wards at Huoshenshan Hospital in Wuhan
Medical workers help the first batch of patients infected with the novel coronavirus move into their isolation wards at Huoshenshan Hospital in Wuhan. Picture: PA

Hong Kong has recorded its first coronavirus death as the total number of cases in China passed 20,000.

The death toll in mainland China has risen to 425, officials have said.

A 39-year-old man became the first death from the virus reported in Hong Kong after travelling to the region from Wuhan, the epicentre of the outbreak.

The new figures come after the country opened a new hospital built in ten days and further restricted people's movement in hopes of containing the rapidly spreading virus and its escalating impact.

The latest numbers are up from 361 deaths and 17,205 confirmed cases on Monday.

British officials are still trying to trace 239 people who flew from the Chinese city of Wuhan to the UK before travel restrictions associated with virus came into force.

Efforts to track down and assess the travellers, who left Wuhan after the virus emerged, began last week as the crisis intensified, leading British Airways and Virgin Atlantic to suspend UK-China flights.

Buses carrying British nationals from the coronavirus-hit city of Wuhan in China, arrive at Arrowe Park Hospital in Merseyside
Buses carrying British nationals from the coronavirus-hit city of Wuhan in China, arrive at Arrowe Park Hospital in Merseyside. Picture: PA

93 Brits are being kept in quarantine at Arrowe Park Hospital in the Wirral after returning from Wuhan on Foreign Office flights last week.

The British nationals and some foreign relatives will be held in an accommodation block at the hospital for two weeks to monitor for any symptoms of the virus.

The British Embassy in Beijing on Monday announced the last flights from China to the UK for British nationals were set to leave this week.

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It said flights would be run by "partner countries" and any British nationals and their immediate families, including those with non-UK passports, must make themselves known if they wish to travel.

The latest figures came as Japanese officials were deciding whether to quarantine more than 3,000 people on a cruise ship that carried a passenger who tested positive for the virus.

Other countries are continuing evacuations and restricting the entry of Chinese or people who have recently travelled in the country.

In the province at the epicentre of the outbreak, a specialised 1,000-bed hospital started treating patients and a second hospital with 1,500 beds is to open within days.

The World Health Organisation said the number of cases will keep growing because tests are pending on thousands of suspected cases.

Chinese President Xi Jinping, presiding over a special meeting of the country's top Communist Party body for the second time since the crisis started, said "we have launched a people's war of prevention of the epidemic".

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He told the Politburo standing committee that the country must race against time to curb the spread of the virus and that those who neglect their duties will be punished, state broadcaster CCTV reported.

China's Shanghai Composite stock index plunged nearly 8 per cent on the first day of trading after the Lunar New Year holiday, despite a central bank announcement that it was putting 1.2 trillion yuan (£133 billion) into the markets.

Hong Kong's leader, Carrie Lam, announced that the semi-autonomous territory would shut almost all but two land and sea border crossings with the mainland at midnight on Tuesday to stem the spread of the virus.

Only the land checkpoints at Shenzhen Bay and the bridge to Macao and Zhuhai would remain open.

More than 2,000 hospital workers went on strike on Monday, demanding a complete closure of the border, and their union has threatened a bigger walkout on Tuesday.

Chinese scientists said they have more evidence that the coronavirus probably originated in bats.

In a study published in the journal Nature, Shi Zhen-Li and colleagues at the Wuhan Institute of Virology reported that genome sequences from seven patients were 96 per cent identical to a bat coronavirus.

Meanwhile, Japanese health officials said a passenger on a Japanese-operated cruise ship tested positive for the virus after leaving the vessel in Hong Kong on January 25.

The Diamond Princess returned to Yokohama carrying more than 3,000 passengers and crew after making port calls in Vietnam, Taiwan and Okinawa.

A team of quarantine officials and medical staff boarded the ship on Monday and began medical checks of everyone on board, a health ministry official said, speaking on condition of anonymity in keeping with department rules.

The passengers and crew members may be quarantined on the ship if the captain agrees to do so, the official said.

South Korea, which has 15 confirmed cases, quarantined 800 soldiers who had recently visited China, Hong Kong or Macao or had contact with people who had, defence ministry spokeswoman Choi Hyunsoo said.

The Philippines banned the entry of all non-citizens from China after two cases were confirmed there, including the only death outside China.

The US, Japan, Singapore, Indonesia, New Zealand and Australia have imposed similar restrictions despite criticism from China and WHO's guidance that such measures were unnecessary.

About 150 cases have been reported in two dozen other countries.

With no end to the outbreak in sight, authorities in Hubei and elsewhere extended the Lunar New Year holiday break, due to end this week, well into February to try to keep people at home and reduce the spread of the virus.

All Hubei schools are postponing the start of the new semester until further notice.

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