Coronavirus: WHO readies master plan to tackle rapid spread in China

China’s virus crackdown leaves millions working at home

Coronavirus: WHO readies master plan to tackle rapid spread in China

A man disinfects escalators at a shopping mall in Beijing on Thursday, Feb. 13, 2020.

On Friday, Hubei's health commission said another 116 people had died and more than 4,800 new cases were reported.

The scale of the epidemic swelled this week after authorities in central Hubei province, the epicenter of the contagion, changed their criteria for counting cases, adding thousands of new patients to their tally.

In China alone, more than 63,000 people have been infected with the virus, and 1,381 have died.

The new figures for total infections gave no sign the outbreak was nearing a peak, said Adam Kamradt-Scott, an infectious diseases expert at the Centre for International Security Studies at the University of Sydney.

"Based on the current trend in confirmed cases, this appears to be a clear indication that while the Chinese authorities are doing their best to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, the fairly drastic measures they have implemented to date would appear to have been too little, too late", he said.

Mike Ryan, head of WHO's health emergencies program, said a spike of some 14,000 cases in China reported on Thursday was a result of authorities reclassifying a backlog of cases using patients' chest images, and not necessarily the "tip of an iceberg" of a wider epidemic. The death was the third outside mainland China, after two others in Hong Kong and the Philippines. There are now several hundred coronavirus cases in 27 countries outside of China.

"Most of these cases relate to a period going back over days and weeks and are retrospectively reported as cases, sometimes back to the beginning of the outbreak itself", Dr Ryan told a news conference at World Health Organization headquarters.

The U.S. has also confirmed its 15th case on Thursday, local time.

Hundreds of cruise ship passengers long-stranded at sea by fears over COVID-19 have finally disembarked and were welcomed to Cambodia by the nation's authoritarian leader, who handed them flowers.

On board the Diamond Princess cruise ship docked in Japan.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen greeted the passengers with handshakes and bouquets of roses as they stepped off the ship and boarded a waiting bus.

Health authorities said they will try to test people for infection, starting with those who are medically frail, and let them off the ship before Wednesday.

No vaccine exists for the coronavirus now, but public health officials urged the public to take precautionary measures similar to those taken during flu season, including washing one's hands with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds, covering coughs and sneezes and staying home if one is sick.

Separately, Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd said it had cancelled 18 cruises in Southeast Asia and joined larger rival Carnival Corp in warning that its full-year earnings would be hit by the coronavirus outbreak.

The government explained the spike was due to a change in how cases are tabulated - the total will now include "clinically diagnosed cases" - people who demonstrate all the symptoms of Covid-19 but have either been unable to access a test or are believed to have falsely tested negative. Analysts at Nomura estimated only about 21% had returned as of Thursday.

Apart from Hubei, rest of China and the world need laboratory confirmation for reporting, WHO said.

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