Coronavirus death toll in China rises to 636

7 February 2020, 15:04

Hong Kong China Outbreak
Hong Kong China Outbreak. Picture: PA

Japan finds 41 more cases on a quarantined cruise ship.

The death toll in mainland China’s coronavirus outbreak has risen to 636, authorities have announced.

The toll includes a doctor who got in trouble in the communist country for sounding an early warning about the disease threat.

Dr Li Wenliang, 34, was reportedly reprimanded for “spreading rumours” in late December.

Coronavirus: confirmed cases
(PA Graphics)

And Japan has said 41 new cases of coronavirus have been found on a cruise ship that is quarantined in Yokohama harbour.

That brings the total number of cases to 61 on the Diamond Princess ship.

There are 78 people with British passports – including crew – on the ship, sources told the PA news agency.

The Diamond Princess and another docked cruise ship, the World Dream, with thousands of passengers and crew members remain under 14-day quarantines in Japan and Hong Kong.

Before Friday’s 41 further confirmed cases, 20 passengers who were found to have the virus were escorted off the Diamond Princess.

Japan China Outbreak
The cruise ship Diamond Princess is docked at Yokohama Port (Sadayuki Goto/Kyodo News via AP)

About 3,700 people have been confined aboard the ship.

“It’s going to be like a floating prison,” British passenger David Abel wrote on Facebook.

He had set out on a 50th wedding anniversary luxury cruise on the Diamond Princess but found himself in his cabin, eating a “lettuce sandwich with some chicken inside”.

More than 3,600 people on the other quarantined ship, the World Dream, underwent screening after eight passengers were diagnosed with the virus.

China Outbreak
Medical workers in protective suits help patients who have been diagnosed with the coronavirus (Chinatopix via AP)

Meanwhile, a newborn discovered to be infected 36 hours after birth has become the youngest known patient.

The number of people infected globally has risen to more than 31,000.

Dr Li had worked at a hospital in the epicentre of the outbreak in the central city of Wuhan.

He was reprimanded by the police for “spreading rumours” about the illness in late December, according to news reports.

The outbreak has spread to around two dozen countries, triggering travel restrictions and quarantines around the world and a crisis inside the country of 1.4 billion.

Dr Li was among a number of medical professionals in Wuhan who tried to warn colleagues and others when the government did not, The New York Times reported earlier this week.

It said that after the mystery illness had stricken seven patients at a hospital, Dr Li said of them in an online chat group on December 30: “Quarantined in the emergency department.”

Another participant in the chat responded by wondering, “Is SARS coming again?” – a reference to the 2002-03 viral outbreak that killed hundreds, the newspaper said.

Wuhan health officials summoned Dr Li in the middle of the night to demand he explain why he shared the information, and police later forced him to sign a statement admitting to “illegal behaviour”, the paper said.

“If the officials had disclosed information about the epidemic earlier,” Dr Li said in an interview in the Times via text messages, “I think it would have been a lot better. There should be more openness and transparency.”

China finished building a second new hospital on Thursday to isolate and treat patients – a 1,500-bed centre in Wuhan.

Earlier this week, another rapidly constructed, 1,000-bed hospital in Wuhan with prefabricated wards and isolation rooms began taking patients.

Authorities also moved people with milder symptoms into makeshift hospitals at sport arenas, exhibition halls and other public spaces.

Altogether, more than 50 million people are under virtual quarantine in Hubei province in an unprecedented – and unproven – bid to bring the outbreak under control.

Hong Kong China Outbreak
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam, centre, speaks during a press conference in Hong Kong (Vincent Yu/AP)

In Hong Kong, hospital workers demanding a shutdown of the territory’s border with mainland China were still on strike on Friday.

The territory’s leader Carrie Lam announced a 14-day quarantine of all travellers entering the city from the mainland starting on Saturday, but the government has refused to seal the border entirely.

Taiwan has said it will refuse entry to all non-citizens or residents who have recently visited Hong Kong, Macao or China from Friday.

From Europe to Australia and the US, universities that host Chinese students or have study-abroad programmes are scrambling to assess the risks, and some are cancelling opportunities and prohibiting student travel.

The organisers of the Tokyo Olympics have again sought to allay fears that the 2020 Games could be postponed or cancelled because of the crisis.

By Press Association

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