Hong Kong reports virus death as workers strike at hospitals

(AP) – Hong Kong hospitals are cutting services as thousands of medical workers strike for a second day to demand that the border with mainland China be shut completely to ward off a virus that caused its first death in the territory.

People wearing protective face masks walk in Hong Kong, Tuesday, Jan 28, 2020. Hong Kong announced it would bar entry to visitors from the mainland province at the center of the coronavirus outbreak. (AP Photo/Achmad Ibrahim)

All but two of Hong Kong’s land and sea crossings with the mainland were closed, but four locally transmitted cases have been reported, indicating community transmission.

The territory reported its first death and the second fatality outside China, which has reported 425 deaths and more than 20,000 cases of the new coronavirus.

On the mainland, thousands of treatment beds were being placed in tight rows in public venues hastily transformed into hospitals as patients overwhelm medical facilities in the hardest-hit areas.

There have been 11 confirmed cases of the virus in the United States.

China’s virus outbreak weighs on global business

China’s virus outbreak is giving global business a chill, with even the gaming industry taking a hit.

Mink breeders in Denmark called off a fur auction because Chinese buyers can’t attend due to travel curbs imposed to contain the outbreak.

On Tuesday, the Chinese gambling enclave of Macau announced it was closing casinos for two weeks as a precaution.

The territory is a major revenue source for U.S. casino operators Wynn Resorts Ltd. and Las Vegas Sands Corp.

The Singapore Air Show, due to open next week, announced Tuesday it was cancelling a business conference due to the absence of Chinese participants.

Global companies increasingly rely on China, the world’s No. 2 economy, but that has left them more exposed than ever to the pain of its latest abrupt slump.

WHO says African nations still not prepared

World Health Organization officials are reporting slower progress than expected in equipping laboratories across Africa to test for the new virus.

Officials had hoped to have about 20 countries equipped by early this week. They told reporters Tuesday that four countries — Nigeria, Ghana, Madagascar and Sierra Leone — are equipped in addition to two referral labs in South Africa and Senegal. Emergency operations manager Dr. Michel Yao said 20 more countries should be ready by the end of the week.

The WHO officials said no confirmed cases of the virus have been reported in Africa. But health security adviser Dr. Ambrose Talisuna said the risk is “very, very high.” Several countries have reported suspected cases, and some are waiting for test results.

Some countries’ health systems are fragile. WHO has prioritized 13 countries based on factors that include high numbers of travelers from China and other affected nations. One is Ethiopia, where Ethiopian Airlines continues to fly five to seven China flights a day. The WHO officials said most African countries have resources to isolate people because of measures taken during the Ebola outbreak in West Africa that ended in 2016. But the officials said more protective equipment is needed and because global demand is high, some shortages are expected.

WHO doctor says too early to tell when coronavirus will peak

A doctor who led the WHO’s response to the 2002-03 SARS outbreak said it’s too early to tell when the new coronavirus will peak, but that it appears the disease is still on the increase.

Dr. David Heymann said the spike in China’s caseload in recent days was partly attributable to the fact that Chinese officials expanded their search to include milder cases, not only people with pneumonia. Heymann declined to predict whether the virus would ultimately cause a pandemic, or worldwide outbreak. According to WHO, a pandemic requires sustained transmission of a disease in at least two world regions.

Heymann said as the new virus starts to spread beyond China, scientists will gain a much better understanding of the disease.

“What we will see is the clearer natural history of the disease,” he said. “That will occur because all the contacts of people who have come into contact into these countries (where the virus has been exported) are being traced and watched very closely.”

SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, is an illness from the same virus family as the current outbreak.

Thai officials confirm more cases of virus

Health officials in Thailand have confirmed six more cases of the new virus from China, bringing the country’s total to 25. They are four Thai nationals and two Chinese from the city of Wuhan, the center of the outbreak.

Two of the Thais are a husband and wife who traveled to Japan recently. The other two are motorcycle taxi drivers who had driven for Chinese tourists. Motorcycle taxis are ubiquitous in the Thai capital, Bangkok.

The director general of Thailand’s Department of Disease Control, Suwannachai Wattanayingcharoen, said one of the patients is in serious condition and also has tuberculosis. He is on a ventilator to help him breathe.

The evident local transmission of the virus to the two motorcycle taxi drivers is a matter of concern because it suggests the virus can spread more easily from person to person, making it harder to contain.

The World Health Organization cited such cases when it declared the outbreak a global emergency last week.

The new virus has infected more than 20,600 people globally, most of them in China.

France warns against all travel to China

France’s government has joined Britain in warning against any non-essential travel to China and suggesting that all of its citizens in China leave while the new virus is still spreading.

The Foreign Ministry issued the travel warning Tuesday based on measures taken by Chinese authorities, and on “the evolution of the epidemic.”

It said France’s embassy and consular services in China will continue to help French people who decide to stay in China.

Air France has stopped all flights to and from China, along with many other airlines.

France has six confirmed cases of the virus and evacuated hundreds of people on two flights.

Britain’s Foreign Office also is advising against “all but essential” travel to mainland China.

Copyright 2020 Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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