World

WHO confirms 27 cases of new coronavirus spreading human-to-human outside of China

The head of the World Health Organization (WHO) said Tuesday that it has confirmed 27 cases of the new coronavirus spreading person-to-person in nine countries outside of China.

2nd presumptive case of the virus has been identified in British Columbia

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus says it's very hard to assess how the outbreak is evolving without more shared data. 1:14

The head of the World Health Organization (WHO) said Tuesday that it has confirmed 27 cases of the coronavirus spreading person-to-person in nine countries outside of China. 

The new figures came as WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus urged health ministers to immediately improve data-sharing on the virus and said he would send a team of international experts to work with Chinese counterparts.

The UN agency was sending masks, gloves, respirators and nearly 18,000 isolation gowns from its warehouses to some two dozen countries that need support, Tedros told its executive board.

As of Tuesday evening, the number of deaths from the new coronavirus in China increased by 65, bringing the total to 490, the country's National Health Commission said.

Hong Kong reported its first coronavirus death on Tuesday, the second outside mainland China. The first death from the virus outside China was a man in the Philippines who died last week after visiting the city of Wuhan in central China.

All the new deaths in China were in central Hubei province, the epicentre of the virus outbreak. In the provincial capital of Wuhan, 49 people died.

Across mainland China, there were 3,887 new confirmed infections on Tuesday, bringing the total accumulated number to 24,324.

Earlier Tuesday, 159 cases had been confirmed outside of China, according to figures released by WHO. 

In Canada, a second, presumptive case of the coronavirus has been identified in British Columbia, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said Tuesday afternoon.

A Vancouver-area woman in her 50s is believed to have the virus after a preliminary test came back positive Monday night. The result needs to be confirmed by the National Microbiology Lab in Winnipeg.

Last Tuesday, a man in his 40s, who often works in China, was identified as the province's first infection.

David Heymann, who led the World Health Organization's response to the SARS outbreak, said it's too early to tell when the new virus will peak, but that it appears to still be on the increase. 

He said the spike in China's caseload in recent days is partly attributable to the fact that officials have expanded their search to include milder cases, not only people with pneumonia.

"Increasing fear and stigma"

In response to the growing outbreak, 22 nations have officially implemented trade- or travel-related measures, which Tedros said should be "short in duration, proportionate" and reviewed regularly.

"Such restrictions can have the effect of increasing fear and stigma with little public health benefit," he said.

Chen Xu, China's ambassador to the UN in Geneva, told the WHO executive board that some restrictions went against the UN agency's advice. He cited prohibitions on entry of foreigners who have visited China in the past 14 days, suspension of visa issuance and cancellations of flights.

"Do not engage in over-reaction," Chen said. "You should follow WHO suggestions and refrain from restrictions on international travel or trade, stay clear of discriminatory actions and stigmatisation."

"This is still and foremost an emergency for China," Tedros said, noting that 99 per cent of cases are in China and 97 per cent of deaths are in Hubei province, including Wuhan.

The overall public health cost of the outbreak response from February to April is estimated at $675 million US, which does not include the social or economic consequences of the outbreak, Tedros said.

Meanwhile, a Chinese woman suspected of spreading the virus asymptomatically while in Germany for a business meeting on Jan. 20 was determined, in fact, to be exhibiting symptoms. 

The German government's public health agency wrote to the New England Journal of Medicine, which first falsely reported the case on Thursday, to correct the mistake. 

The report had stoked fears that the outbreak could be much harder to control if people could spread the virus before they appeared sick. 

WATCH | First patients admitted to the newly built Wuhan hospital:

Built in ten days, a new hospital in Wuhan is now admitting patients with the coronavirus. 0:32

10 test positive on cruise ship

Japan took protective measures Tuesday after 10 people on a cruise ship tested positive for a new virus and were being taken to hospitals.

Health minister Nobukatsu Kato said all the 3,700 people and passengers on the ship will be quarantined on board for up to 14 days under Japanese law. The 10 are among 273 people tested after one man who got off the ship in Hong Kong was confirmed to have the virus.

Some tests are still pending. Those tested either had a cough or fever, which are symptoms of the new coronavirus, or had close contact with the man who stopped in Hong Kong.

But the transmission isn't clear, and the others may have gotten the virus when they got off the ship at other port calls in Vietnam, Taiwan, Kagoshima and Okinawa. The ship returned to Yokohama, near Tokyo, Monday.

Also on Tuesday, Colombia became the first country in Latin America able to do its own diagnostic tests for the coronavirus, the country's health ministry said.

Colombia has no confirmed cases of the disease, but has tested 50 travelers for the virus over the last five days. The testing capabilities mean local authorities will no longer need to send samples from potentially infected people to the U.S., the ministry said in a statement.

"We are the first country in Latin America which can do local diagnostic tests for the new coronavirus, and if necessary, give support to other countries," Health Minister Ivan Dario Gonzalez said.

WHO declared the virus a global emergency last week, and experts said much is still unknown, including its mortality rate and transmission routes.

The test can detect the virus in a maximum of 24 hours, health officials said, and within eight hours if the patient is in the capital Bogota.

WATCH | Canadian cycles through the quiet streets of Wuhan:

A Canadian teaching in Wuhan takes to the streets on his bike and comments on what he sees. 1:45

Corrections

  • This story has been corrected from a previous version which stated the second case of coronavirus in British Columbia had been confirmed. It is in fact a presumptive case.
    Feb 04, 2020 5:26 PM ET

With files from CBC News

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