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Coronavirus Death Toll Surpasses 300 in Hard-Hit Chinese Province


Travelers wear face masks as they wait for trains the Beijing Railway Station in Beijing, Jan. 31, 2020.
Travelers wear face masks as they wait for trains the Beijing Railway Station in Beijing, Jan. 31, 2020.

Chinese officials in central Hubei province, where the outbreak began, said Saturday at least 304 people have died and more than 14,000 have been infected by the virus.

Sunday the Philippines announced the first death from the virus outside China.

Australia, Japan and Singapore announced strict travel controls Saturday on foreigners, who have been in China recently, over fears of the coronavirus, after the U.S. announced similar restrictions and declared a public health emergency the day before. Israel, Malaysia, Mongolia and the Philippines have announced similar measures.

Taiwan also announced more limited travel restrictions Saturday. The actions were taken as China’s government announced another jump in deaths from the outbreak.

Also Saturday, U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper approved a request from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for help in housing 1,000 people who may have been exposed to the coronavirus and need to be quarantined upon arrival in the U.S. from overseas, the department said in a statement Saturday.

"HHS officials requested the Defense Department to provide several facilities capable of housing at least 250 people in individual rooms through Feb. 29, 2020," the statement said. It said the people would need to be held for 14 days, which is the incubation period for the virus.

The statement said the Department of Defense "will only provide housing support, while HHS will be responsible for all care, transportation and security of the evacuees." Four military installations were identified for use — two in California, and one each in Colorado and Texas — if they are needed.

Travelers wear face masks as they stand outside the Beijing Railway Station in Beijing, Jan. 31, 2020.
Travelers wear face masks as they stand outside the Beijing Railway Station in Beijing, Jan. 31, 2020.

The World Health Organization declared the outbreak a global health emergency on Thursday, fearing the virus could spread to poorer countries that would have great difficulty containing it. The WHO has said it does not recommend that countries initiate any travel or trade restrictions with China. The WHO estimates the virus has been detected in at least 27 other countries, with the majority of cases involving people who visited China.

The continuing spread of the coronavirus led U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar to also declare a public health emergency on Friday and deny entry into the country to any foreign national who has recently traveled to China, except for those travelers whose immediate family members are U.S. citizens.

He also said that any U.S. citizen who had traveled to China's Hubei province within the past two weeks would be subject to a mandatory quarantine of 14 days.

Sixth U.S. case

The announcement came as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed a sixth case of coronavirus in the United States. Health officials said the latest patient was a man in Santa Clara County, south of San Francisco, who became ill after traveling to China.

Australia said Saturday it also was barring entry to foreigners who had recently traveled to China, and that it was requiring returning citizens to quarantine themselves for 14 days.

Japan announced it was refusing entry to noncitizens who had visited Hubei province in the past 14 days, and to those who had passports issued there.

Singapore also announced a ban on new visitors from China, the first Southeast Asian country to do so. The government, which earlier denied entry only to arrivals from Hubei province, will still allow entry to citizens and permanent residents.

Taiwan said it would prohibit Chinese citizens from China’s southeastern coastal province of Guangdong from entering the country beginning Sunday, Taiwan state media reported Saturday. Travelers who visited the Guangdong area recently will be quarantined for 14 days.

The U.S. State Department raised the coronavirus Saturday in criticizing China for banning Twitter messages that reference Taiwan. "Blocking Twitter users who make reference to Taiwan’s participation in international organizations, particularly given the global response to the coronavirus crisis, is outrageous, unacceptable and not befitting of a U.N. organization," said an official statement released Saturday.

Chinese return home

Also Saturday, two groups of stranded Hubei residents returned to China on chartered planes sent to Thailand and Malaysia by the Chinese government. The 199 Chinese nationals had been left without a way home when their return flights were canceled amid the virus scare. The state-owned Xinhua news agency reported the retrieved passengers were screened for fever and anyone who displayed symptoms of the coronavirus would be "quarantined immediately."

Members of a Hong Kong union for medical workers voted Saturday to go on strike Monday after the government dismissed their demand to close all entry points from China. The Hospital Authority Employees Alliance said more than 9,000 of its members vowed to participate in a five-day strike.

U.S. health officials Friday issued a two-week quarantine order for 195 Americans evacuated earlier this week from Wuhan, the Chinese city at the center of the outbreak. The CDC said this was the first federal quarantine ordered since the 1960s, when there were fears of a smallpox outbreak.

Former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden chided President Donald Trump on Friday for reducing U.S. oversight of global health issues before the onset of the coronavirus outbreak. Biden said now was not the time for Trump's "hysterical xenophobia and fearmongering to lead the way instead of science."

Matt Wolking, a Trump campaign spokesman, said the president "is listening to medical and scientific experts and taking every responsible precaution to protect the American people."

More flight suspensions

Also Friday, the three U.S. airlines that fly to China announced they would suspend flights to the Chinese mainland.

American Airlines said it would stop flights to mainland China through March 27 but would continue flights to Hong Kong. The decision came after the American Airlines pilots’ union sued the company to immediately stop flights to and from China because of possible health threats posed by the coronavirus.

Delta said it would wait until February 6 to stop flights and keep them suspended through April 30. Shortly after saying it would only reduce service to China, United Airlines also announced Friday that it would suspend flights from February 6 through March 28 but would maintain one flight from San Francisco to Hong Kong.

For all three airlines, these suspensions followed travel advisories issued by the State Department and the CDC. The State Department issued a Level 4-Do Not Travel advisory on Thursday and recommended that all Americans leave mainland China, drawing criticism from China’s government, which said the move was "certainly not a gesture of goodwill."

Other international airlines have also suspended service to mainland China or announced plans to do so, including Air France, British Airways, Indonesia’s Lion Air, KLM, Lufthansa, Qantas and Scandinavian Airlines.

Global stocks fell sharply Friday over concerns the outbreak of coronavirus would negatively affect the world economy.

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