Two chartered flights carrying hundreds of Americans fleeing the coronavirus outbreak in China have landed at Travis Air Force Base in Northern California.
RELATED: American teacher documents life in Wuhan, center of coronavirus bit.ly/2UtVyxw
The flights come after a chartered flight a week ago evacuated U.S. consulate workers and scores of Americans living in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, the center of the outbreak that has been in lockdown for almost two weeks.
The death toll from the virus rose Wednesday to almost 500, all but two of the deaths in China. The number of virus cases rose almost 25,000, including more than 200 outside mainland China and 11 in the U.S.
As the crisis escalates, here’s a summary of today’s key events:
- The doctor who tried to raise the alarm about coronavirus in the early days of the outbreak in Wuhan died after contracting the disease. Early reports of the death of Li Wenliang were retracted, only for the doctor to succumb later in the day
- More than 28,000 people have now contracted the virus. The vast majority of cases are in China. Chinese state television today reported the death toll to have risen by 69 to 618 people. All deaths from the virus have so far been in mainland China with the exception of one in Hong Kong and one in the Philippines.
- The number of cases in Hubei province, the epicentre of the outbreak, is now 22,112
- President Xi Jinping declared a “people’s war” against the virus as companies worldwide warned of the impact on business
- Two docked cruise ships with thousands of passengers and crew members remained under 14-day quarantines in Hong Kong and Japan. Japan reported 10 more infections among passengers aboard the luxury cruise liner Diamond Princess, which is quarantined outside Yokohama
- Hospitals in Wuhan said they were struggling to find enough beds for thousands of newly infected patients
- There were warnings that Hong Kong’s economy risked being plunged deeper into recession as the virus wrought havoc in the territory, with consumers panic-buying staple goods and airlines stopping flights
- China’s ambassador to the UK, Liu Xiaoming, warned against “rumours and panic” and called on the UK government to support.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned that "trolls and conspiracy theories" are undermining their response to the new coronavirus.
WHO Director General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters that misinformation was "making the work of our heroic workers even harder".
More than 34,800 people have been infected with the new coronavirus worldwide, the vast majority in China.
There have been 723 deaths in China and one death abroad, in the Philippines.
Of the 34,598 people infected within China, Dr Tedros said almost 25,000 are in Hubei Province - the region where the outbreak was first reported, which has since become the epicentre of the virus.
"I would also like to speak briefly about the importance of facts, not fear," Dr Tedros said. "People must have access to accurate information to protect themselves and others."
He said misinformation around the new strain, 2019-nCoV, "causes confusion and spreads fear to the general public".
"At the WHO we're not just battling the virus, we're also battling the trolls and conspiracy theories that undermine our response," he added.
"As a Guardian [newspaper] headline says today, 'Misinformation on the coronavirus might be the most contagious thing about it'."
In that article, published by The Guardian's opinion section, epidemiologist Adam Kucharski argues that the best way to combat online falsehoods around the virus is to "treat them like a real-life virus".
The deadly Coronavirus outbreak in China could have spread from bats to humans through the illegal traffic of pangolins, the world’s only scaly mammals, which are prized in Asia for food and medicine, Chinese researchers said.
The pangolin is one of Asia’s most trafficked mammals, although protected by international law, because its meat is considered a delicacy in countries such as China and its scales are used in traditional medicine, the World Wildlife Fund says.
“This latest discovery will be of great significance for the prevention and control of the origin (of the virus),” South China Agricultural University, which led the research, said in a statement on its website.
The outbreak, which has killed 636 people in mainland China, is believed to have started in a market in the city of Wuhan, in central Hubei province that also sold live wild animals.
Health experts think it may have originated in bats and then passed to humans, possibly via another species.
The genome sequence of the novel coronavirus strain separated from pangolins in the study was 99% identical to that from infected people, China’s official Xinhua news agency reported, adding that the research found that pangolins to be “the most likely intermediate host.”
But Dirk Pfeiffer, professor of veterinary medicine at Hong Kong’s City University, cautioned that the study was still a long way from proving pangolins had transmitted the virus.
“You can only draw more definitive conclusions if you compare prevalence (of the coronavirus) between different species based on representative samples, which these almost certainly are not,” he said.
Even then, a link to humans via food markets still needs to be established, Pfeiffer added.