China’s National Health Commission said on Thursday the total number of confirmed deaths from the coronavirus in the country has risen by 38 to 170 as of end-Wednesday, as the number of infected patients rose by more than 1,700.
The commission said in a statement there were 7,711 confirmed cases as of the end of Wednesday, with an additional 12,167 suspected cases. Although the majority of cases have been in Hubei, cases have been detected elsewhere in China and in at least 15 other countries.
The World Health Organization’s (WHO) Emergency Committee is set to reconvene behind closed doors in Geneva later on Thursday to decide whether the rapid spread of the virus now constitutes a global emergency.
“In the last few days, the progress of the virus, especially in some countries, especially human-to-human transmission, worries us,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a news conference on Wednesday, naming Germany, Vietnam and Japan.
“Although the numbers outside China are still relatively small, they hold the potential for a much larger outbreak.”
China virus evacuations begin as death toll climbs
A plane of Japanese evacuees from the virus-hit Chinese city of Wuhan arrived in Tokyo on Thursday. A second chartered flight with Japanese evacuees from Wuhan, which is under virtual lockdown, landed in Japan with nine people showing symptoms of fever or coughing, broadcaster NHK reported. Three Japanese who returned on the first flight were confirmed to be infected with the virus, NHK reported on Thursday, citing the health ministry, although two of the three had not shown any symptoms.
The United States flew about 200 Americans out of Wuhan, capital of Hubei, where most of the cases are concentrated. They were being screened on arrival in California. France, Britain and Canada also have organized evacuations.
Restrictions for airlines flying to China under discussion: US
The effects of the virus are already weighing heavily on China’s economy, the world’s second-biggest, with companies cutting corporate travel and tourists cancelling trips. The White House is considering further restrictions on US airlines flying to and from China in addition to voluntary restrictions that the companies have put into place, President Donald Trump’s economic adviser Larry Kudlow said on Wednesday. Kudlow said the matter was under discussion but declined to give further details.
Kudlow also said that officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were going to China to help with the coronavirus outbreak at China’s invitation.
Airlines suspend, scale back direct flights to China amid virus fears
Global airlines on Wednesday suspended or scaled back more direct flights to China’s major cities amid an increase in travel warnings and decline in demand from passengers due to a growing outbreak of coronavirus. Fears over the spread of the flu-like virus, which originated in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, are increasing as the death toll topped 160.
The virus appears to represent the biggest epidemic threat to the airline industry since the SARS outbreak, which at its peak in April 2003 led to a 45% plunge in passenger demand in Asia, analysts said.
The White House is considering further restrictions on U.S. airlines flying to and from China in addition to voluntary restrictions the companies have put into place, President Donald Trump’s economic adviser Larry Kudlow said on Wednesday.
“The matter is under discussion every day,” he said.
British Airways said it suspended all direct flights to and from mainland China.
BA.com, the airline’s website, shows no direct flights to mainland China available to book in January or February. But the airline said in an email the cancellations were in effect until Jan. 31, while it assesses the situation.
Air Canada, which planned earlier this week to cancel just a select number of its 33 weekly flights to China, said on Wednesday it would suspend all direct flights to Beijing and Shanghai.
The suspension, from Jan. 30 to Feb. 29, came after the government of Canada updated its travel advisory urging its citizens to avoid non-essential travel to China.
American Airlines Group Inc said on Wednesday it would suspend flights from Los Angeles to Beijing and Shanghai but continue flying from Dallas, and Delta Air Lines said it was halving its U.S.-China schedule to about 21 weekly flights.
U.S. officials said the White House had decided against suspending all flights to China for now, but it could revisit the decision if events warrant.
Among European carriers, Germany’s Lufthansa suspended its own, Swiss and Austrian Airlines flights to and from China until Feb. 9, while Air France said it would reduce its flight schedule to Beijing and Shanghai this week.
Iberia, part of the IAG group along with BA, said it was temporarily suspending all flights to Shanghai.
Asia-Pacific accounts for about 19% of both Air France-KLM and Lufthansa’s available seat kilometres and 8% of IAG’s in 2019, Goodbody analysts said.
“The airline industry has proven resilient to shocks in the past,” S&P Global Ratings said. “However, the impact on Asia-Pacific airlines and other operators will depend on how quickly the virus is contained and the extent to which it spreads beyond China.”
Indonesia’s Lion Air said on Wednesday it would suspend all direct flights to China. India’s IndiGo is also suspending flights to Chengdu and Hong Kong.
Carriers including Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific Airways said on Wednesday amenities such as hot towels, blankets and magazines would not be offered on flights to and from mainland China from Thursday until further notice.
Cathay Pacific and other airlines are allowing their flight attendants to wear face masks and gloves on flights to protect against fears of contagion.
Wesley Lesosky, president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees unit that represents Air Canada flight attendants, said by email that members have the option of wearing masks and gloves on flights to China.
But flight attendants remained “concerned with the effects the virus could have if contracted, how to recognise an infected passenger and how to deal with the nervous passengers onboard,” Lesosky said.
WHO emergency meeting today, declaring coronavirus a global health emergency on cards
The World Health Organization will meet on Thursday to consider declaring the coronavirus outbreak in China a global public health emergency, a senior official at the multilateral body said during a press conference broadcast online.
“The WHO will reconvene an emergency meeting tomorrow. We are at an important juncture in the event. The disease is still spreading. The meeting will consider declaring a global public health emergency meeting in Geneva,” Michael J. Ryan, executive director of WHO Health Emergencies Programme, said during the press briefing.