An advance team of international experts led by the World Health Organization (WHO) has left for Beijing to help investigate China’s coronavirus epidemic, which authorities said on Monday had now claimed 908 lives on the mainland.
The outbreak has caused huge disruptions in China with usually teeming cities becoming virtual ghost towns during the past two weeks as Communist Party rulers ordered virtual lockdowns, canceled flights, closed factories and shut schools.
WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who made a trip to Beijing for talks with President Xi Jinping and Chinese ministers in late January, returned with an agreement on sending an international mission.
But it has taken nearly two weeks to get the government’s green light on its composition, which was not announced, other than to say that WHO veteran Dr. Bruce Aylward, a Canadian epidemiologist and emergencies expert, was heading it.
“I’ve just been at the airport seeing off members of an advance team for the @WHO-led #2019nCoV international expert mission to #China, led by Dr Bruce Aylward, veteran of past public health emergencies,” Tedros said in a tweet from Geneva on Sunday.
The WHO declared the outbreak a global emergency on Jan. 30, days after the Chinese central government imposed a lockdown on 60 million people in Hubei province and its capital Wuhan, epicenter of the virus that emerged in December in a seafood market.
The death toll from the outbreak in mainland China rose by 97, the largest in a single day so far, to 908 as of the end of Sunday, the National Health Commission (NHC) said on Monday.
Over the weekend, an American hospitalized in the central city of Wuhan became the first confirmed non-Chinese victim of the disease. A Japanese man who also died there was another suspected victim.
The coronavirus outbreak has now killed more people than the SARS epidemic did globally in 2002/2003.
Across mainland China, there were 3,062 new confirmed infections on Sunday, bringing the total number so far to 40,171.
Authorities had told businesses to tack up to 10 extra days onto holidays that had been due to finish at the end of January.
Even on Monday, a large number of workplaces will remain closed and many white-collar workers will continue to work from home.
The virus has also spread to at least 27 countries and territories, according to a Reuters count based on official reports, infecting more than 330 people. Two deaths have been reported outside mainland China - both of Chinese nationals.
The latest patients outside China include a group of British nationals staying in a mountain village in Haute-Savoie in the Alps, French health officials said, raising fears of further infections across Europe.