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Virus emergency declared as death toll climbs

Hong Kong has declared a coronavirus emergency and scrapped Lunar New Year celebrations as the death roll from the outbreak jumps to 41.

The death toll from China’s coronavirus outbreak has jumped to 41 as the Lunar New Year got off to a gloomy start, with Hong Kong declaring a virus emergency and scrapping celebrations.

Australia has confirmed its first four cases, Malaysia confirmed three and France reported Europe’s first cases on Friday, as health authorities around the world scrambled to prevent a pandemic.

The US is arranging a charter flight on Sunday to bring its citizens and diplomats back from Wuhan, the central Chinese city that is the epicentre of the outbreak, the Wall Street Journal reported.

France is also planning to evacuate French nationals trapped by the Chinese government’s lockdown in Wuhan, the South China Morning Post reported.

Virus emergency declared as death toll climbs

The number of those who have died from the virus in China climbed to at least 41 on Saturday and cases have been reported in other countries including the United States, Australia, France, Thailand, Japan, Taiwan and South Korea. Picture: Kevin Frayer/Getty ImagesSource:Getty Images

In Hong Kong, with five confirmed cases, the city’s leader Carrie Lam said flights and high speed rail trips between the city and Wuhan will be halted. Schools in Hong Kong that are currently on Lunar New Year holidays will remain closed until February 17 and education authorities have asked universities to extend leave for students.

China’s President Xi Jinping, saying the country is facing a grave situation, held a politburo meeting on measures to fight the outbreak, state television reported on Saturday.

The death toll in China has risen to 41, authorities reported on Saturday, from 26 a day earlier.

More than 1300 people have been infected globally, most of them in China, with the virus traced to a seafood market in Wuhan that was illegally selling wildlife.

Hubei province’s Civil Affairs Department deputy director-general Hu Yinghai appealed for masks and protective suits.

Chinese women and a child all wear protective masks as they walk under decorations in a park after celebrations for the Chinese New Year and Spring Festival were cancelled by authorities. Picture: Kevin Frayer/Getty ImagesSource:Getty Images

“We are steadily pushing forward the disease control and prevention … but right now we are facing an extremely severe public health crisis,” he told a news briefing.

Wuhan said it would ban non-essential vehicles from its downtown starting on Sunday, further paralysing a city of 11 million that has been on virtual lockdown since Thursday.

Nearly all flights have been cancelled and checkpoints are blocking the main roads leading out of town.

Authorities have since imposed transport restrictions on nearly all of Hubei province, which has a population of 59 million.

In Australia, three men aged 53, 43 and 35 in New South Wales were in a stable condition with the virus after returning from Wuhan earlier this month. A Chinese national in his 50s, who had been in Wuhan, was also in a stable condition in a Melbourne hospital after arriving from China on January 19, Victoria Health officials said.

Hong Kong declared a new coronavirus outbreak as an "emergency". Picture: Dale De La Rey/AFPSource:AFP

State-run China Global Television Network reported in a tweet on Saturday that a doctor who had been treating patients in Wuhan, 62-year-old Liang Wudong, had died from the virus.

US coffee chain Starbucks said it was closing all its outlets in Hubei province for the week-long Lunar New Year holiday, following a similar move by McDonald’s in five Hubei cities.

The number of confirmed cases in China stands at 1287. The virus has also been detected in Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Nepal, and the United States.

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