Canadian doctor, WHO team heading to China, where coronavirus death toll tops 900

Dr Bruce Aylward, a Canadian physician, is leading a World Health Organization-assembled team that will investigate China's coronavirus epidemic, which authorities said Sunday has claimed 908 lives on the mainland.

Officials say there are now more than 40,000 confirmed infections in mainland China

Funeral home workers remove the body of a person suspected to have died from a coronavirus in Wuhan, China, on Feb. 1. (Chinatopix via AP)

Latest developments:

  • 908 novel coronavirus deaths in mainland China
  • 40,171 confirmed cases in mainland China 
  • 66 more coronavirus cases confirmed aboard Diamond Princess cruise ship, bringing total to 130 
  • Seven confirmed coronavirus cases in Canada (three in Ontario and four in B.C.)
  • More than 200 Canadians airlifted from Wuhan, China, in quarantine at CFB Trenton 
  • World Health Organization team, led by a Canadian doctor, en route to China

An advance team of international experts led by the World Health Organization (WHO) is on its way to Beijing to help investigate the coronavirus epidemic in China, which authorities said has now claimed 908 lives on the mainland.

The outbreak has caused huge disruptions in China with usually teeming cities becoming virtual ghost towns during the past two weeks as Communist Party rulers ordered virtual lockdowns, cancelled flights, closed factories and shut schools.

WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who made a trip to Beijing for talks with President Xi Jinping and Chinese ministers in late January, returned with an agreement on sending an international mission.

But it has taken nearly two weeks to get the government's green light on its composition, which was not announced, other than to say that WHO veteran Dr. Bruce Aylward, a Canadian epidemiologist and emergencies expert, was heading it.

Bruce Aylward speaks during a news conference in Geneva, Switzerland, in July 2016. (Martial Trezzini/Keystone via AP)

The WHO declared the outbreak a global emergency on Jan. 30, days after the Chinese central government imposed a lockdown on 60 million people in Hubei province and its capital Wuhan, epicentre of the virus that emerged in December in a seafood market.

The death toll from the outbreak in mainland China rose by 97 to 908 as of the end of Sunday, the National Health Commission (NHC) said on Monday.

Across mainland China, there were 3,062 new confirmed infections on Sunday, bringing the total number so far to 40,171.

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Testing aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan has found 66 more confirmed cases of coronavirus, a spokesperson for the cruise line said in an email Monday. One is a Canadian passenger.

Seven Canadian passengers had previously tested positive for the virus. 

That takes the number of confirmed coronavirus cases on the ship docked in Yokohama, south of Tokyo, to 136, according to domestic broadcasters TBS and NHK, citing Japanese health ministry sources. The health ministry's communication office had no information on the report when contacted by Reuters.

The Diamond Princess was placed on a two-week quarantine on arriving at Yokohama on Feb. 3 after a man who disembarked in Hong Kong was diagnosed with the virus.

In Canada, there have been seven confirmed cases of coronavirus — three in Ontario and four in British Columbia — according to the Public Health Agency of Canada

More than 200 Canadians who were airlifted from Wuhan — the city at the centre of the outbreak in China — are under a 14-day quarantine at a Canadian Forces base in Trenton, Ont., as they are monitored for symptoms. 

Two deaths have been reported outside mainland China — both of them Chinese nationals.

The latest patients outside China include a group of British nationals staying in a mountain village in Haute-Savoie in the Alps, French health officials said, raising fears of further infections across Europe.

With files from CBC News