Coronavirus death toll hits 80 as top medic 'suspects virus is already in UK'

27 January 2020, 05:47

China has upped its efforts to halt the spread of the virus
China has upped its efforts to halt the spread of the virus. Picture: PA
EJ Ward

By EJ Ward

The death toll from the coronavirus outbreak which has swept parts of China has reached 80, as the country steps up efforts to halt the spread.

The country's National Health Commission updated the number of deaths as they confirmed 769 new cases, bringing the total number of known infected to 2,744.

It comes as Public Health England medical director Dr Yvonne Doyle tells Sky News she suspects there are already cases of the virus in the UK but says the country is "well-prepared."

Health Minister Ma Xiaowei said: "According to recent clinical information, the virus' ability to spread seems to be getting somewhat stronger."

It also emerged today that Mongolia has closed its border with China until March 2 to prevent spread of the disease.

Border crossings for vehicles and pedestrian traffic have been shut, Mongolia’s state media Montsame said - citing a cabinet meeting. The country has also closed all of its universities and educational institutes until further notice.

Mongolia's border with China is just under 3,000 miles long.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has said that the government is stepping up efforts to restrict travel and public gatherings while rushing medical staff and supplies to the city at the centre of the crisis, Wuhan, which remains on lockdown.

Five cases have been reported in Hong Kong and Macau, with other cases reported across the globe. The virus has been found in Thailand, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, the US, Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia, Nepal, France, Canada and Australia.

As the outbreak deepens several nations have announced plans to evacuate their nationals from the Wuhan area.

French Health Minister Agnes Buzyn said the country expects to repatriate a few hundred of its 800 citizens living in the Wuhan area. Evacuees will have to spend 14 days in quarantine to avoid spreading the virus in France.

"French citizens will be repatriated by airplane to France, with the agreement of Chinese authorities. This will take place midweek," Buzyn told reporters.

The US Consulate in Wuhan announced it will evacuate its personnel and some private citizens aboard a charter flight early this week.

More than 50 people have now been tested for coronavirus in the UK, according to the Department of Health (DoH), although all tests have returned negative.

As of Sunday afternoon, some 52 people across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have been tested for the deadly flu-like virus.

The current risk to the public remains low, the department said, adding that the Government is continuing to monitor the situation closely.

Britons trapped in the Chinese province at the centre of the outbreak have been urged to leave the area if they are able to do so.

The Foreign Office updated its guidance to "advise against all travel to Hubei province", which has been on lockdown for several days as China seeks to contain the illness.

But the guidance also added: "If you are in this area and able to leave, you should do so. This is due to the ongoing novel coronavirus outbreak."

Home Secretary Priti Patel said the Government was "looking at all options" to help Britons leave Wuhan following reports that officials have been asked to examine the logistics for an airlift from the city.

Millions across China are on lockdown as health authorities take precautions against the spread of the coronavirus
Millions across China are on lockdown as health authorities take precautions against the spread of the coronavirus. Picture: PA

While warning the virus seemed to be spreading more easily, China's health minister Ma Xiaowei said travel restrictions and other strict measures should bring results "at the lowest cost and fastest speed".

The spread of the virus has come during China's busiest travel period, when millions cross the country or head abroad for the Lunar New Year holiday.

Chinese travel agencies have been told to halt all group tours, and concern is growing over the potential impact of millions of people travelling back to the cities after the Lunar New Year holiday ends on Thursday.

The health commission said anyone travelling from Wuhan is now required to register with community health stations and quarantine themselves at home for 14 days - the virus' maximum incubation period.

Beijing has decided to delay the start of classes after the Lunar New Year holiday ends, the official Beijing Daily reported on its website.

In the heart of the outbreak - where 11 million residents are already on lockdown - Wuhan banned most vehicle use, including private cars, in inner city areas.

China cut off trains, planes and other links to the city on January 22 and has steadily expanded the lockdown to 16 surrounding cities with a combined population of more than 50 million.

Wuhan is building two makeshift hospitals with about 1,000 beds each to handle patients.

The city has said the first is expected to be completed on February 3.

Medical workers in Wuhan have been among those infected and local media reported a doctor died on Saturday morning.

The 62-year-old physician was hospitalised on January 18 and died a week later.

Xinhua said medical supplies are being rushed to the city, including 14,000 protective suits, 110,000 pairs of gloves and masks and goggles.

The commission said it is bringing in medical teams to help handle the outbreak and the Chinese military dispatched 450 medical staff, some with experience in past outbreaks, including SARS and Ebola, Xinhua reported.